The stories making headlines in higher education.

The stories making headlines in higher education.

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A University of Kansas professor who drew national protest over a proposed religion course says he was forced to step down as chairman of the Department of Religious Studies, adding more fuel to an already emotionally fired story.

"The university penalized me and denied me my constitutionally protected right to speak and express my mind," Paul Mirecki said in a written statement.

University spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said Mirecki stepped down on the recommendation of faculty members. "The university stands unequivocally in support of his First Amendment rights and his rights to academic freedom," she said.

Mirecki, who remains a professor at the university, caused outrage when it was revealed that he had an ulterior motive in teaching the course, "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism." Faculty members approved the course after the words "and other Religious Mythologies" were removed from its title, but in e-mails to a student group, Mirecki revealed that he planned the course to teach so-called "intelligent design" theory as mythology to infuriate fundamentalists.

Mirecki later apologized and withdrew the course. He was also treated for injuries after he was attacked by two men who were angered by his comments.

Intelligent design theory has evolved in recent years a modified version of creationism. While it does not directly refer to God, it holds that there are complexities of life that can't be explained in any other way than by an "intelligent designer."

Although many university leaders may equate taking sides in the evolution/intelligent design argument to walking blindfolded in a minefield, a few have been bold enough to take a stand. One who has is at the heart of the maelstrom: University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway. Hemenway wrote to faculty and students in September, saying, "The attack on evolution continues across America and compels me to again state the obvious: The University of Kansas is a major public research university. As an academic, scientific community we must affirm scientific principles."

University of Idaho President Timothy White also expressed his position in a letter, saying, "I write to articulate the University of Idaho's position with respect to evolution: This is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences."

In December, Princeton University (N.J.) President Shirley Tilghman, speaking to a group of scholars at Oxford, said, "Evolution is a theory that has arisen in the scientific field and has been tested and challenged for 150 years. Intelligent design is a philosophical position that can be taught in social science classes or philosophy classes, but it's not science."

And Hunter Rawlings, acting president of Cornell University (N.Y.), used his recent State of the University address to speak out against intelligent design. "The issue in question is the challenge to science posed by religiously based opposition to evolution, described, in its current form, as intelligent design," he said. "ID is a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea." --Tim Goral

A few years ago, Professor of Management Joseph Weiss started seeing the magic that happens when business curriculum includes spirituality themes. His course "Life Calling and Career Strategies: The Spiritual Journey" asked students to deeply consider their purpose in life. The teaching veteran of 20-plus years then began incorporating contemplative methods like meditation and a module on every person's heroic journey into his MBA leadership course.

Now, thanks to grant money awarded by the American Council of Learned Societies, which is used to fund voluntary faculty workshops, Weiss can inspire colleagues at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., to try out various contemplative methods, such as reflection, centering prayer, and meditation, during instruction. The initiative provides opportunities "for students to get in touch with their inner strengths and energies, and to express themselves in ways that are creative, innovative, and different," Weiss says.

And, yes, there's room for that at a business school. "Our administration is very committed to the whole student and to enabling students to have both a liberal arts as well as a business background," he adds.

Provost Robert Galliers says the college has a tradition of putting business into context by marbling global perspectives and business ethics throughout the curriculum. While the great majority of undergraduate students come to Bentley to major in a business discipline, 30 percent of faculty covers arts and sciences. And many students add a second major in one of those areas.

From Weiss's workshops to Bentley's service learning program, which asks students to step back and reflect upon their community experiences, Galliers says it's all "part of this reflective approach we're trying to adopt." --Melissa Ezarik

A majority of the faculty at the University of California system has cried foul over the way executives are compensated. A pay increase sanctioned by the regents this fall brought President Robert Dynes salary to $403,916, according to published reports, and increased the annual compensation of 10 chancellors from $253,600 to $358,900. Numerous other high-level executives have received millions of dollars in severance, bonuses, stipends, and other compensation.

Meanwhile, the regents have raised student fees for five straight years--the latest hike is an 8 percent increase that brings the annual total per student to $6,141.

Faculty members are calling for an investigation as to how payment is determined for the UC system's executives, and argue that a full accounting of all compensation should be spelled out under the California Public Records Act. Regents and system spokespeople counter that the salary increases for UC executives are necessary to keep the system competitive. UC is still not in line with comparable public and private institutions and the system's executive pay lags the competitive market by 15 percent, they say.

Dynes has conceded that the UC system could do a better job of explaining its pay practices to the public and has formed a task force to study the matter.

After weeks of watching the controversy unfold, state lawmakers jumped in and claimed they would hold their own hearings on the issue in the spring.

Caught in the crossfire was UC Provost M.R.C. Greenwood, the system's second highest official, who resigned in late November. UC officials are investigating whether she had a role in helping her son land a $45,000-per-year internship at the UC Merced campus and in helping Lynda Goff, a UC biology professor, get a bigger job in the UC system's initiative to improve K12 science and math instruction in California. Goff, it turns out, is also a real estate business partner of Greenwood's. They co-own a rental property. --J.M. Angelo

Classroom lights have been switched on and off thousands of times since hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit last fall. But many IHEs that closed for the semester have stayed in the dark. Now, January marks the start of the first full semester back, and as schools around the Gulf Coast return fully to the business of education, each one has its own approach to the financial recovery.

Many recovery plans include a large number of layoffs. Dillard University suffered some of the worst damage from Hurricane Katrina and let go nearly 60 percent of its workforce in October (although some are now being hired back as more students decide to return to the school, says spokeswoman Maureen Larkins). For Loyola University New Orleans, which suffered little physical damage but had to close for fall, layoffs remain a possibility. "Our president, before he made any decisions, wanted to look at what our enrollment would look like," says spokeswoman Kristine Lelong. (She notes that by mid-December nearly 80 percent of previously enrolled undergraduates and an even greater percentage of law students had pre-registered for the spring semester.)

Tulane University, facing $200 million in recovery costs this school year alone, issued a comprehensive recovery plan in December. The university is streamlining its offerings to remain true to core mission objectives. For Tulane, financial solvency will entail eliminating programs, including the Ph.D. option in Computer Science and the undergraduate curricula in Chemical Engineering and scaling back the School of Medicine. The school is also dropping seven athletic programs to help cut a reported $55 million from the overall budget.

Louisiana's public colleges and universities have had some individual leeway for financial recovery--so long as each institution plays its part in a total $66.6 million budget cut handed down by the state. The Board of Regents met with decision- makers from each of the state's four public systems to work things out, according to Kevin Hardy, director of Communications for the board. "One of the things we did not want to do was have a clear across-the-board cut," he says.

In spite of many hurts, schools around the Gulf Coast remain firm on their loyalty to the region and its people. The Louisiana Community and Technical College System launched a program to train unemployed workers for participation in the post-hurricane rebuilding effort. And Tulane, said President Scott Cowen when releasing the school's recovery plan, will be "a dynamic engine of growth and change for New Orleans and its citizens." --Caryn Meyers Fliegler

With applications to full-time MBA programs dropping, B-schools are getting creative about designing new options. Enter the "specialty MBA." Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C., for example, is promoting its Professional MBA at Pinehurst program, which has a focus on golf, tennis, and resort management. (The sumptuous Pinehurst luxury resort and spa was home to the 2005 U.S. Open.)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, which reportedly saw its full-time applications drop by 30 percent in the past three years, is now offering 13 different MBA degrees that focus on subjects like arts administration and real estate economics. Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., has found a way to stand apart from neighbors such as Harvard, by focusing on supply chain management. It may not be as sexy as, say, sports management or entrepreneurship, but it is an area of expertise for Northeastern.

"Full-time programs are suffering the greatest effects right now," says Tom Hyclak, interim dean of the College of Business and Economics at Lehigh University (Pa.). He has helped overhaul his business school, focusing on part-time students and four core areas: people, resources, prices, and products. The university also had added MBA programs in engineering and educational leadership. His next step is to push more of the MBA offerings online. --J.M.A.

POKER may not be the most conventional way of earning tuition dollars, but students from more than 300 colleges worldwide thought they'd give it a try this fall, when the website AbsolutePoker.com held its second free "Win Your Tuition" tournament.

And while educators may not be thrilled about students participating in a contest that could help them become hooked on an activity typically played with cash on the line, there is no denying that poker is getting young people's attention these days. "Poker is on fire," says Mike Edwards, business development manager for the website. "I would suggest that it's not a fad. It's part of student culture as much as football games and going to parties."

That has led officials at several colleges to realize that poker can be a viable, fun way to raise money for charities. Edwards even claims that a handful of institutions, including Cornell University (N.Y.), gave AbsolutePoker.com the chance to announce the tournament to their students. (Cornell officials did not return UB's telephone calls.) It was 21-year-old Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) student Jeremy Olisar (pictured above) who cashed in the top prize, worth about $15,000, enough to cover the fall semester. He reportedly plans to enter AbsolutePoker.com's upcoming spring tournament, as well. --M.E.

AIDING STUDENTS, BUYING STUDENTS:

Financial Aid in America

Rupert Wilkinson

Vanderbilt University Press, 2005; 336 pp; $39.95.

The term "financial aid" is bandied about in seemingly every higher education discussion these days--but what of the history and purposes behind it? With an understanding of budgetary processes and pressures, this book explores how aid developed in America and plays out for students and schools alike.

Through an engaging narrative, the book's author blends stories with data. Don't be daunted by the fact that the first chapter begins in 1641--this is not a dry recounting of dates and events. Rather, in noting the conflicting purposes of student aid, the book connects past people and events to present ideas and practices. It shows how the story of one gift--to Harvard College from a London philanthropist named Ann Radcliffe--had in it three strands that remain relevant even now: the variety of motives behind financial aid, the dilemma of spending on needy students versus other considerations, and the influence of mission and economic factors.

The book largely focuses on selective private colleges (although it makes important connections for all IHEs). Wilkinson concludes the historical journey with proposals. "The history of financial aid is a roller coaster, not a straight line," he writes. "The important thing is to have new ideas in place for when new opportunities arise." --C.M.F.

The idea of small communities on or near campus of residents with connections to the school--whether they're alumni, retired faculty and staff, or local seniors attracted to the campus lifestyle--is not new. And while it's an intriguing idea, at the top of most institutions' to-do lists it is not.

That's where Campus Continuum hopes to help. "We bring together all the parties needed to bring the project to fruition," says Gerard Badler, managing director of the Boston-area firm and former president of a marketing consulting firm spun off from Harvard Business School.

Badler's plan: Establish a network of these residential communities, geared toward life long learners ages 55 and up. Each would be launched under a common brand name, with his firm securing the capital if necessary.

In return, partner schools would publicly endorse the project and provide residents with access to their educational, cultural, and sports programs. While using campus land is what Badler considers ideal, he can help locate nearby land. Besides the potential revenue from providing the land and welcoming residents who would be likely to donate to the school, the network aspect of the project is a plus. Participants could learn from each other, for example, how to best attract residents and donations.

To identify schools with demand for this type of community, Badler has created an online consumer survey; data will first be analyzed this spring. "We are asking responders to tell us to which schools they'd like to retire and what types of amenities they'd prefer," he says. (To learn more visit www.campuscontinuum.com.) Encouraging alumni, retired faculty, continuing education students, older donors, parents of prior students, and seniors in the area to fill out the survey can help determine whether the concept is worth pursuing. About 30 schools across the country have inquired about a partnership, he notes. --M.E.


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