The stories making headlines in higher education

The stories making headlines in higher education

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Benjamin Ladner, who for 11 years was president of American University (Washington, D.C.), was fired in October. The board of trustees questioned his lavish spending, which included trips to Europe, a personal chef, home renovations, and private parties. He will reimburse $125,000 in travel expenses to the university and now will have to consider $398,000 in spending made over the past three years as taxable income.

The board fired Ladner after months of scrutiny. An investigation was kicked off four months ago by an anonymous letter sent to The Washington Post and the university's board of trustees. Printed accounts list dinners at the The Four Seasons, a $503.15 "celebration dinner" for his personal chef held at The Ritz-Carlton in Virginia, and a $5,274 luncheon held by Ladner's wife, Nancy, at a garden club on a Maryland island where the Ladners own a home.

While Ladner has argued that such entertaining was in line with his mission to fundraise for the university, observers say his justification for such spending is a stretch. Ladner's contract allowed him to travel first class, notes Raymond Cotton, partner in Mintz Levin, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that specializes in presidential contracts and compensation. "He gave that phrase the broadest interpretation."

Ladner's logic is probably sending other presidents and board members scrambling to review the fine print in contracts, says Cotton, who notes that Ladner's renewed contract with American in 1997 was sweetened considerably. Now trustees and lawyers are left to debate what Ladner is entitled to, now that the contract has been broken. Cotton notes that Ladner may walk away with two years' salary. His current base pay exceeds $500,000 per year, which means Ladner may get well more than $1 million after being fired. He may also be guaranteed a tenured professorship at a pay rate 20 percent higher than the highest paid professor at American. Such details, though, have yet to be finalized.

Ladner's behavior isn't the only thing being analyzed at American. The board is being called to task for its lack of oversight. "It has been alleged that the board hadn't closely reviewed Ladner's expenses for the past few years," says Cotton. The board at American University imploded with Ladner's dismissal. Chair Leslie Bains resigned on the eve of the meeting held to oust Ladner. She accused Ladner of leading an "imperial lifestyle" and called for his die-hard supporters on the board to resign, too.

--Jean Marie Angelo

Georgia State University has thousands of people knocking at its doors. The university, with an enrollment of 27,000 students in six colleges, currently has 2,400 beds in its housing facilities. That's about 3,600 beds short of where the school wants to be. "We have waiting lists that exceed 800 people," says Nancy Peterman, president of the Georgia State Foundation. "Students want to live close to campus."

What's coming next is a massive project that will bring 2,000 new beds to Georgia State. This fall, Georgia State University Foundation's financing arm, Piedmont/Ellis LLC, financed $168 million in bonds to fund the project, which will open at the intersection of Atlanta's Piedmont Avenue and Ellis Street in the fall of 2007, and will be the largest privately funded university housing complex in the nation. The new complex will have unique security features (Peterman is not giving any secrets away) and will actually consist of connected buildings so students don't feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the 767,046-square-foot structure.

Georgia State currently has a housing facility with 400 beds about four blocks from the new site as well as the University Village complex that was constructed for the 1996 Olympics. The new complex will likely change the face of the neighborhood. "Having 2,000 students living near downtown will give the energy and vitality that will help the city as well as Georgia State," says Foundation Chairman Jack Kelly.

--Caryn Meyers Fliegler.

Why do textbooks account for nearly three-quarters of the costs for community college students, and a quarter of expenses for students at four-year public schools? A congressional report issued by the Government Accountability Office this summer attributed skyrocketing costs--on average nearly $900 per student at public institutions--to several factors, including the bundling of books with new technologies and the frequent release of new editions.

Yet the National Association for College Stores says leaders on campus can do some things to contain the situation. NACS generally agreed with the findings of the GAO report, calling it the most accurate capture of the textbook pricing structure yet. "I think it opened up questions as well," says NACS spokeswoman Laura Nakoneczny. During a webcast in September, NACS Director of Government Affairs Rich Hershman said faculty and bookstore directors should sit down and talk about textbook price structures. Campus retailers and faculty should then convene meetings with other key stakeholders on campus, use the report to help explain the process of textbook adoption, and discuss how they support the goal of making college education more affordable.

Several states including Connecticut continue to evaluate the textbook issue, while Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed a bill to grant colleges money to fund feasibility studies on textbook rental programs.

--C.M.F.

Take Atari, Halo 2, and Dungeons and Dragons, and put them together in a big ballroom--that's a lot of gaming.

But it's also a lot of communicating, according to administrators at Creighton University, a Jesuit school of 6,000 students in Omaha, Neb. This month, Creighton is hosting its third annual GameFest, a 12-hour marathon of gaming for students, faculty, staff, admissions prospects, and K-12 students from the region.

GameFest, which takes place on campus with nearly 75 computers, up to 10 plasma televisions, and four projectors, is surely about recognizing the role of gaming in today's culture. But it's also about underscoring Creighton's mission, says Brian Young, vice president of Information Technology. "There's this kind of Jesuit approach to what we're doing," he says. "We sort of educate the whole person here."

Creighton has worked to make Game-Fest inclusive by adding older games such as Pong to the mix. Corporate sponsors make the event nearly cost-free by donating hardware and software supplies.

Gaming has received some official acknowledgement from IHEs in recent years. The University of Southern California offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in interactive entertainment as well as minors in 3D animation, video game design and management, and video game programming.

--C.M.F.

Paying for parking at one university is a breeze now. Parking managers at the University of California, Santa Barbara installed a wireless pay solution at their campus, allowing more than 600,000 transactions to take place on a daily basis. Motorists pay for parking via an unmanned pay station or a cellular phone.

By working with IBM to instal this new system, UCSB has seen a 20-percent increase in revenue and has cut staffing expenses by about $300,000, says Director of Transportation and Parking Services Tom Roberts, who came up with the idea.

Here's how it works: Motorists can pay to park for a certain amount of time using anything from a credit card to a campus card at the pay station for that lot. They can also pay by simply dialing a toll-free number from a cellular phone. Those who need to buy more time can re-dial the toll-free number, or go to the nearest pay station.

To make things even more efficient, parking enforcers are alerted through their PDAs when a car has overrun its allotted time, which make enforcement cost-effective.

--Julie A. Varughese

Almost 80 percent of colleges and universities are paying more this year to provide employee health insurance, according to the annual survey of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

CUPA-HR's survey also reports that 63 percent of higher ed employees are pitching in more for their coverage. The median rate paid by a college or university employee is $71 per month; while the median monthly rate per employee for the institutions surveyed is $311.

The full report is available for a fee at www.cupahr.org.

--J.M.A.

Hurricane Katrina hit the colleges and universities in New Orleans hard, but none harder than the historically black colleges in the city. Still, Dillard University and Xavier University, the nation's only historically black Catholic university, have vowed to get up and running as soon as possible. Dillard, whose enrollment is 2,100, will reopen in January 2006 on part of the Tulane campus, even though that university is undergoing its own recovery initiative. Xavier is aiming to bring students back by the middle of January. The latter enrolls more than 3,500 and is known for graduating a large number of doctors and other medical professionals.

Leaders at both universities, which serve many local underprivileged students, say it is important that their students come back to their home city and be near their families. Many of the students' parents have lost homes and jobs. Reopening the universities provides some stability in this transitional time. Both say their students, who are now enrolled at other colleges and universities throughout the country, are asking to come back to New Orleans.

Rebuilding, though, is going to take an enormous effort for these higher ed institutions whose endowment totals are a fraction of that of Tulane's and some of the city's other colleges and universities. While Tulane's endowment is reported to be the wealthiest of any of the city's higher ed institutions at $722 million, the endowments for Dillard and Xavier are in the $50 million range.

Leaders at these historically black colleges know that coming back home is going to take serious fundraising. Dillard suffered $400 million in damages, estimates Walter Strong, vice president for Institutional Advancement. "Insurance does not, by any stretch of the imagination, cover that need," he says. The university's short-term needs are going to be $50 million to $75 million, which Dillard is raising in private support. The money will be used to rebuild its four major residence halls, which were damaged by flooding, and to repair roof damage to the science center, and blown-out windows in the library.

Xavier's President Norman Francis estimates the gap between what the insurance payment will be and what is needed to rebuild and make the campus habitable is $15 million to $18 million.

Leaders at both universities have launched public relations efforts, and appealed to Congress, to raise funds and raise awareness of their plight.

Already there are promises to help. Ivy League institutions Brown (R.I.) and Princeton (N.J.) have offered their architects to help plan the rebuilding. Those universities will also donate equipment and lend administrative staff to restock libraries and bring classrooms up to speed.

--J.M.A.

Lay Leaders in Catholic Higher Education:

An Emerging Paradigm for the Twenty-First Century

Anthony J. Cernera; Sacred Heart University Press, 2005; 168 pp; $24.95

Lay administrators are increasingly taking the helm at Catholic institutions of higher learning, which were traditionally led by priests and nuns. Now lay leaders outnumber those who have taken religious orders, and this change over the past 35 years has prompted the question: Can these IHEs still maintain their Catholic identities with this dramatic shift in leadership?

This provocative question is pondered in a book of essays edited by the long-time lay president of Sacred Heart University (Conn.), Anthony J. Cernera. Lay Leaders in Catholic Higher Education is based on presentations from a 2003 conference sponsored by his university and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Essays by a number of lay and religious leaders of Catholic IHEs explore the possible spiritual ramifications of a trend toward lay leadership, and consider how best to educate lay leaders on the goals and missions of Catholic IHEs.

Cernera suggests that although the book is geared toward Catholic IHE administrators, decision makers in secular institutions would benefit from the discussions on how best to mold campuses into communities of social, moral, and intellectual engagement.

--J.V.

Studies have found women are less likely to pursue MBAs because of a slew of myths that surround the degree--a credential which has catapulted more than one career.

That's why Forte Foundation (www.fortefoundation.org) was founded. As a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating women about MBA programs and business careers, the foundation has organized a national tour to present facts about the MBA to women between the ages of 19 and 30.

One of the myths the presentations aim to debunk is the commonly-held idea that successful MBA candidates need to excel in math.

Also, quite often, according to Executive Director Elissa Ellis, women are just beginning to think about starting families at the time when they would be interested in pursuing an MBA. Many believe that MBA programs are not structured to allow women to be students and parents at the same time.

The women who usually attend the events are between the ages of 22 and 30, but the foundation is now piloting four programs for college-age women on university campuses this fall.

The events are called Leadership Launch. Ellis explains that role models would give students an idea of what to expect in the business world. "It's not all about getting the MBA. It is about explaining what business careers look like, feel like."

--J.V.

A different kind of envelope may be arriving on admissions doorsteps.

Package delivery company DHL has launched "University Express," a specialized service that allows foreign students to mail their college applications at deeply discounted rates.

Here's how DHL's University Express works: Students in India and Thailand (and soon, other countries) call DHL and ask for a University Express envelope. DHL brings the envelope, and then sends off the application materials to any college in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the U.K.

More than 200,000 students in India alone apply to overseas colleges every year, according to Lindsay Birley, senior vice president of international products and services for DHL Express. A typical DHL Express mailing from India to the U.S. would cost about 1,700 rupees, or about $40. The same package mailed with University Express could cost half that.

DHL is not currently offering University Express as an option for U.S. students.

--C.M.F.

What do hockey players do when they hang up their skates at the end of their career? That was the research question at Quinnipiac University (Conn.) which led to the development of the Professional Athlete Transition Institute in the School of Business.

Duncan Fletcher, director of PATI, says the biggest misperception people have is that athletes are all millionaires who can just play golf and watch TV after their sports careers end. "But for the majority of them, it's not a question of should they work but of what kind of second career should they pursue," he says. "In most sports, players don't stay long enough to earn the kind of money that sets them for life. And in most sports, players don't play long enough to even qualify for the league pension plan."

The institute itself is unique. Although there are "in-house" programs in other sports leagues to serve athletes, PATI is the only one in a university environment. "Our program covers both active and retired players--which others don't--in helping them make the transition to post-playing days," says Fletcher. "With retired players it is a much more time-sensitive process because they need to get going on a career."

Hockey's pension plan and retirement program lag way behind those of other sports, and there are many former players in need of true assistance. PATI's goal is education. To use the analogy of "teaching a man to fish," PATI better prepares players for life after hockey so they won't need emergency assistance.

"Our goal is to allow them to develop their skills, and an understanding of who they are and what they want to accomplish, and give them the tools to do that," notes Dale Jasinski, executive director of PATI and a professor of management at Quinnipiac University.

"The program begins with a self-assessment about who they are and what their career preferences might be. Then we help them determine where their career interests lay, whether it is a career in broadcasting, or as an entrepreneur, a financial planner, a stock broker, or whatever," he says. "Then we move them into a professional coaching environment to help them prepare for that career."

The program also helps players who simply want to return to school. "Unlike the NFL, where more than 70 percent of players go through college, in the NHL it's more like 25 percent of players," says Fletcher.

--Tim Goral

Wisconsin state legislators were up in arms this fall when they learned that three faculty members of the University of Wisconsin system who had been convicted of committing crimes were still collecting paychecks.

A physiology professor who was sentenced to eight years for sexual assault in March reportedly collected $137,000 in vacation pay until mid-September.

The two other professors cited in legislative hearings are also doing time--one for stalking, the other for exposing a minor to harmful material--but remained on the payroll after their convictions. The problem is the appeals process built into the UW system, says UW system President Kevin Reilly, who has vowed to revamp the system.

Currently, state law prevents UW from firing employees just because they are convicted of a crime. The system is required to conduct a separate investigation on such employees before firing them. Tenured professors convicted of crimes are allowed to appeal the findings of these investigations and collect accrued vacation pay.

--J.M.A.

Non-traditional college students tend to bolt after class. What's a school to do when non-traditional is the norm and the whole campus needs a social life?

For Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, where the average undergrad and grad student is 33 and 35, respectively, the answer is: Serve some drinks--although not those of the alcoholic variety.

Soda is actually the beverage of the hour twice weekly in Franklin's student lounge, which recently got stand-up tables to encourage interaction. At Happy Hour Redefined, casual student and faculty networking is the agenda.

It was the brainchild of Chief Academic Officer Christopher Washington. "Our social capital needed to be developed further," explains Sherry Mercurio, director of Public Relations. "Because of the makeup of our student population, it's difficult for them to meet with each other." The university, which offers evening bachelor's and master's programs, mainly in business, has more than 1,110 students attending only the downtown campus, where Happy Hour is held.

Other outreach efforts, Mercurio says, include one-on-one advisors, who each handle administrative tasks, like registration, for students, and who work with the same student through graduation.

--M.E.


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