University News

This Week in Higher Ed: Feb. 21, 2014

By and
University News Editor and Managing Editor
Friday, February 21, 2014

Obama apologizes for negative comment on art history

President Obama sent a letter of apology to Ann Collins Johns, a senior lecturer in art and art history at the University of Texas at Austin, after mocking art history degrees in a recent speech, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Tuesday.

During a speech about job training last month, Obama said “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”

Obama’s comment provoked criticism nationwide from art history scholars, including Johns.

Johns sent a letter to the president following his controversial remark, in which she wrote that art history teaches students critical thinking, reading and writing, among other useful skills, the Chronicle reported.

“I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history,” Obama wrote in his apology. “As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed,” Obama wrote, according to the Chronicle.


Campaign seeks to add sexual assault as honor code violation at UVa

Student activists at the University of Virginia have garnered over 500 signatures for a petition calling for the institution’s honor code to be revised to include sexual assault as a violation of the code, the Cavalier Daily reported Wednesday.

“If an individual can get away with a serious, life-damaging offense at UVa, we are only sending the message that it is acceptable not only here, but within the rest of society,” the petition’s organizers wrote. The petition was filed last month on a website called SpeakUpUVA that was started by the university’s Student Council, the Daily reported.

UVa’s 172-year-old code is the oldest student-run honor system in the country, compelling signatories to pledge to refrain from lying, cheating or stealing as campus community members, according to the university’s website. A student committee hears proceedings and issues decisions in all honor violation cases.

But the petition to add sexual assault as an honor offense could create problems with federal law if the proposal is approved, the Daily reported.

Title IX, the federal law prohibiting educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex, has a lower standard of proof for sexual assault than mandated by UVa’s Honor Committee. The committee requires a 99 percent standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” for honor violation convictions. This discrepancy has led some student leaders to conclude that sexual assault cases should remain outside the Honor Committee’s jurisdiction, the Daily reported.


Stanford profs say MOOCs are succeeding

Nearly two years after Stanford University’s launch of numerous massive open online courses, faculty members said the courses are living up to expectations, Inside Higher Ed reported Tuesday.

One of the challenges that MOOC instructors face is to learn how to alter and improve the courses when they are taught many times per year with the same material, Scott Klemmer, a visiting associate professor of computer science at Stanford, told Inside Higher Ed.

Keith Devlin, a mathematics researcher at Stanford who has taught four rounds of the course “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking,” told Inside Higher Ed that though the course’s content has remained roughly the same, the MOOC’s structure and student experience has changed significantly.

Inspired by massive multi-player online role-playing games, such as “World of Warcraft,” Devlin has altered his MOOC to include smaller discussion forums where students enrolled in the course can more interactively engage with the material, Inside Higher Ed reported.

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