Higher education headlines for Sept. 20

In each edition, the University Times will be spotlighting articles from around the Internet about the unique issues confronting higher education and how they affect faculty and staff.

Here are some of the top headlines from the past two weeks:

Penn to offer possibly first online Ivy League bachelor’s degree

Starting in fall 2019, the University of Pennsylvania will offer what it says is the first online bachelor’s degree at an Ivy League college.

Designed for adult learners, the program will confer a bachelor of applied arts and sciences, and will enroll students through the School of Arts and Sciences’ College of Liberal and Professional Studies, which serves working adults and other nontraditional students.

— Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 18

Wright State faculty union could vote to strike

Wright State University’s faculty union is awaiting a fact-finder’s report before deciding whether to strike, according to the Dayton Daily News. The report was initially supposed to be released on Sept. 11, but has been delayed until late October.

Once the report is issued, the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors plans to hold two meetings for members, said president Martin Kich, professor at the WSU Lake Campus in Celina.

Members will then vote for more than a week on the report, which will propose a sort of compromise contract, Kich said. At least 60 percent of the union’s membership would have to turn down the fact-finder’s proposal to begin initiating a strike.

Earlier this year, the administration offered the union a three-year contract with no raises, reduced health benefits with higher premiums and a new furlough proposal, according to a January email from the AAUP-WSU. The reduction in benefits would amount to a 4 percent pay cut and a furlough, which could last up to two weeks, could amount to a 5 percent pay cut, according to the email.

— Dayton Daily News, Sept. 5

Study finds diversity officers don’t necessarily improve diversity on campus

In a working paper submitted to the National Bureau of Economic Research, James E. West of Baylor University and his colleagues analyzed the faculty diversity of 462 research institutions in United States before and after they hired chief diversity officers. The paper, which the authors say is the first study of the topic, also looks broadly at faculty hiring and student demographics.

The authors were unable to find any statistically significant increase in faculty diversity after the creation of a chief-diversity-officer position. But, as the paper notes, many other factors can affect faculty diversity, such as underrepresentation in the Ph.D. pipeline.

— Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 6

Purdue Global backs off nondisclosure agreements

Purdue University Global will no longer require faculty members to sign nondisclosure agreements, according an email that Betty Vandenbosch, chancellor of Purdue Global, sent on Wednesday to the institution.

Professors previously had to sign a four-page document that prohibited them from talking about nonpublic matters at Purdue, including aspects of their teaching such as “course materials” and “methods of instruction.” The institution was criticized for the agreements, which are typically found in corporate environments, not academe.

— Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 6

Wisconsin system cracking down on low-enrollment programs

The University of Wisconsin System is again seeking to limit faculty and institutional say in academic matters with a policy that would eliminate all programs with fewer than five majors annually, on average, according to Inside Higher Education.

According to a circulating system draft policy on “monitoring degree program productivity,” institutions would have just three years to increase enrollment in “low-productivity” programs or be forced to cut them.

— Inside Higher Education, Sept. 11

Michigan professor rescinds recommendation offer to Israeli program

A professor at the University of Michigan declined to write a recommendation for a student to study abroad upon realizing the student’s chosen program was in Israel. In an email to the student, the professor cited support for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions as the reason why he was rescinding an offer to write a recommendation letter.

The University of Michigan, for its part, issued a statement affirming its opposition to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and clarifying that no academic department or unit has taken a stance in support of it.

— Inside Higher Education, Sept. 19

Majority in poll say race shouldn’t be considered in admissions

A national poll by WGBH News in Boston and Abt Associates asked 1,002 adults across the country whether they agree or disagree with the Supreme Court's rulings that colleges can consider race in their admissions decisions. The poll found 72 percent disagreed, including a majority of black, Asian and Hispanic people who responded to the telephone survey, which was conducted Aug. 21-25 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

On the other hand, the poll found deep support for racial-ethnic diversity among college students. Fully 86 percent responded that campus diversity is at least a somewhat important goal.

— WGBH, Sept. 16