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Monday, April 27, 2009

Tn State set to recast itself as a research U.

Over the next six years, Tennessee State University plans to spend more than $36 million on a strategy it hopes will transform the university into a top research school.

TSU's plan is ambitious: to transform itself into a premier research institution, one that attracts thousands of new students and millions of dollars in endowments, donations and grants. At a time when universities across the state are cutting budgets,">Tennessee State University is dreaming big — and ready to throw millions into its plans.

Over the next six years, TSU plans to spend more than $36 million on a strategy it hopes will transform the university.
TSU's plan is ambitious: to transform itself into a premier research institution, one that attracts thousands of new students and millions of dollars in endowments, donations and grants.

The question now is whether a university that's been plagued with lackluster student service, declining enrollment and bad publicity can turn things around in the middle of the worst budget crisis to hit higher education in decades.

TSU's new 2010-14 strategic plan developed by Peter Nwosu, a strategic planning expert and a visiting fellow from the American Council on Education, establishes lofty goals.

"If we choose to do nothing, then we will be nowhere" five years from now, he said.

The plan calls for TSU to increase enrollment from 8,200 to more than 12,000 by 2015, increase fundraising revenue by 10 percent every year, and to earn a designation as a level two research institution from the Carnegie Foundation.

New academic master plan
But before TSU can begin building itself into a research hub, it needs the results of yet another planning committee that is drawing up a new academic master plan for the university — one that will begin eliminating under-performing majors and elevating a handful of programs that will be considered TSU's "flagship" programs.

What those flagship research programs will be, Nwosu couldn't say for sure. But TSU is the only land grant college in Middle Tennessee, so its college of agriculture is a likely candidate, as is its nursing program.

Becoming a major research institution "doesn't happen by prayer — it happens by work," Nwosu said.

$36M plan follows cuts

Recent state budget cuts forced TSU to trim $9 million from its budget. Paying for the $36 million plan will mean shifting millions from other programs, including the federal Title III money it receives as a designated historically black university. Nwosu said TSU will divert money away from under-performing programs and also will hope increased fundraising will provide some of the planning money.

"These are bad times, but bad times don't mean we'll just fold up the tent," Nwosu said. While painful, he said, this year's budget cuts gave the university a chance to take a hard look at its entrenched practices and programs: "We're rethinking, reorganizing and reinventing."

The most ambitious parts of the plan may take years to happen, if they happen at all. Nwosu pointed out that many goals are interlinked: You can't expect enrollment to rise until you've improved student services. You can't improve student services without launching the staff development plans. You can't work on staff development without a budget, and for that you need to get your fundraising operation off the ground.

But students may see some changes right away. Nwosu said TSU's Web site will change to suit the Web-surfing habits of its computer-savvy students. The school is pushing to go paperless, putting publications online in a move that saves not only trees but also money.

Every six months, the planning committee will come together to report on how its efforts are progressing. The final version of the strategic plan should be complete within the next month.

The Tennessee Board of Regents will review TSU's plan, along with the rest of the five-year plans its schools will submit, this summer.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Alcorn's plan for student housing hits snag

Higher education leaders say the economy has thrown a bit of a wrench into Alcorn State University’s plans for a privatized housing development.

At the state College Board meeting this morning, board members granted Alcorn President George Ross the authority to possibly use the traditional bond financing model for new student housing.

Alcorn is aiming to be the first public university in the state to use private money to finance a residence hall. Proponents say the method speeds up the process and does not add to the university's debt because the bonds are secured through the university foundation.

"The (privatized) model works," but there was no way to anticipate the state of the nation's financial market at the time, he said.

Alcorn currently is in negotiations with one bank to continue moving forward with the privatized method, but Ross said he sought approval for the traditional financing model just in case that doesn’t work out.

"Housing is desperately needed at Alcorn," he said.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

AAMU board cancels meeting after failing to get a quorum

Gov. Bob Riley's office has announced cancellation of the Alabama A&M University board of trustees meeting planned for today. Spokesman Todd Stacy said the board could not reach a quorum of seven members.

Dr. Shefton Riggins, president pro tempore of the trustee board, called the meeting Wednesday. Riggins used a provision in the A&M bylaws that let him reconvene a meeting recessed in January due to no quorum.

Riggins planned to interview again the three finalists for A&M president, a university press release said. It was not clear afternoon whether the three - Dr. Lawrence Davenport of Florida, Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr. of South Carolina and Dr. Rodney Smith of Virginia - had already headed here. None could be reached by phone Friday afternoon.

Trustees are expected to try again next week.

AAMU board to meet; could select new leader

After months of delays, Alabama A&M University's on-again, off-again presidential search is back on again with the announcement that the A&M board of trustees will meet this morning on the campus in Normal (AL) to possibly select a president.

The trustees will meet at 9:30 a.m. in what is being called a continuation of a Jan. 31 meeting that was closed but not adjourned. That meeting in Birmingham heard from all three presidential finalists but did not have a quorum for a vote.

The meeting announcement came one day after the chairman of the state Senate Confirmations Committee said Tuesday Gov. Bob Riley's appointees to the board of trustees are in danger of failing for a second straight year.

Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, said that's because Riley still has not sent their names to the confirmations committee and because of opposition from the Alabama Education Association.

Riley's office has continued to delay sending the four names - David Slyman Jr. of Huntsville; Leroy C. Richie of Birmingham, Mich.; Mayor Edward E. May of Bessemer; and the Rev. Willie Clyde McNeil of Chatom - after AEA called for a public hearing.

The confirmations committee rejected all four last year, but Riley reappointed them after the Legislature adjourned in 2008. In December the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing the Riley appointees to remain on the board.

The finalists for president are Dr. Lawrence Davenport of Florida, Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr. of South Carolina and Dr. Rodney Smith of Virginia. Davenport has since taken a job at a charter school in Rhode Island. It is unclear whether he remains a candidate.

You may have missed:No-shows foil AAMU's attempt to select new leader

AAMU interviews finalist for president

Friday, April 17, 2009

Three Howard University seniors awarded Fulbright scholarships

Howard Seniors Florence Maher, Kelly McCray and Justin P. Dunnavant were named 2009 Fulbright Scholars.

Three Howard University seniors will head to Jamaica, Germany and Thailand next fall as recipients of the 2009 Fulbright Scholarship.

Justin P. Dunnavant (B.A. candidate, History and Anthropology, ‘09), Florence Maher (B.A. candidate, Political Science and Economics, ‘09) and Kelly McCray (B.A. candidate, English and Greek, ‘09) have received the coveted award. The trio brings the number of Howard University Fulbright scholars since 1998 to 22. The awards are for one year of study and/or research that can be pursued in more than 140 countries.

“The selection of these outstanding College of Arts and Sciences students as Fulbright Scholars is an indication of the high quality of a Howard University education, the effectiveness of faculty mentoring, and the enhanced strategic emphasis that President Sidney A. Ribeau is placing on global learning and internationalization,” said Alvin Thornton, Ph.D., Interim Provost and Chief Academic Officer.

Dunnavant will travel to Jamaica to research African cultural retentions through archaeological data, with a goal of expanding understanding of the African experience in the Americas. Maher is headed to Germany and will explore social integration on the German-Polish border. McCray will spend a year teaching in Thailand as part of the English Teaching Assistantship program.

Hamilton Cunningham was recently named a 2009 Truman Scholar. Cunningham is Howard University’s sixth Truman Scholar since 1989. Cunningham, an economics major in the College of Arts and Sciences (COAS), plans to pursue a Masters of Arts in Art Policy and Administration. He is one of only 60 students from 55 colleges and universities across the nation selected for this honor. More than 600 candidates were nominated for the award by 289 colleges and universities. The prestigious Truman Scholarship provides up to $30,000 for graduate study. It is awarded annually to students who have excelled academically and are committed to careers in public service.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

U.S. Chief Justice visits NCCU Law

John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States, visited N.C. Central University's law school today. The chief justice largely avoided the limelight and the camera. Roberts spent most of his time not before a crowd but with small groups of students and lawyers. His schedule was tightly controlled, and the media - aside from one campus newspaper reporter - was barred.

For NCCU students, the visit was a rare opportunity. Roberts was on campus to preside over the school's moot court competition.

Roberts, who joined the nation's high court as its chief justice in 2005, visits just a handful of law schools each year. Two years ago,NCCU Law Dean Raymond Pierce met him at a judicial conference in West Virginia and asked him to speak at NCCU.

Roberts told Pierce that he doesn't usually give speeches but he'd preside over a moot court competition - in which teams of law students argue a case on appeal to a panel of judges.

Roberts will met with students, presided over the competition and held a U.S. Supreme Court Bar swearing-in ceremony for about 20 NCCU law alums, said Pierce, who doled out most of the 120 seats in the NCCU courtroom to students through a lottery, leaving plenty of alums and professors alike disappointed.

Roberts visits about six or seven law schools a year, often to preside over moot court competitions and occasionally for other reasons, Arberg said.

Roberts' visit is a coup for this small but well-regarded law school stuck between Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, two institutions with law schools boasting larger reach and profile. Duke has hosted U.S. Supreme Court justices at least a handful of times, and two chief justices have spoken on campus, William Rehnquist in 2002 and Earl Warren in 1963.

In the last decade, UNC-CH has hosted associate justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O'Connor.

NCCU has hosted just one in its history, associate justice Potter Stewart in 1980.

If the six NCCU students chosen for the moot court competition never argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court during their careers, they can at least say they took legal fire from the nation's chief justice. Roberts was joined on the panel by Allyson Duncan, a former NCCU law professor who sits on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Henry Frye, a former member of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Dominique Williams, a third-year law student, is one of NCCU's six participants in a case involving whether the government should be allowed to medicate a man in order for him to be considered competent and able to stand trial.

"We all have put in long nights and endless days," he said. "It's a great honor, so we've prepared very hard to make the university proud."

Bryan Nye was a second-year law student at the University of Kansas last year when Roberts presided over his moot court competition there.

Nye was wound pretty tight until he attended a question-and-answer session with Roberts before the competition. Seeing Roberts in person, joking and approachable, put him at ease.

"If you get to hear him speak, you'll realize he's brilliant, but also, he's very personable," Nye recounted recently by phone from his home in Kansas. "He's not out to get you as a law student."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

FAMU grads bringing new movie to the big screen

FAMU grads Rob Hardy and Will Packer are preparing to bring their latest feature film to the "big screen" OBSESSED later this month. The film is set for release on April 24, and features Beyonce' Knowles, Idris Elba, and Ali Larter.

The story line centers around a successful assets manager Derek (Idris Elba) who receives a major promotion, is blissfully happy in his career and in his marraige to the beautiful Sharon (Beyonce'). When Lisa (Ali Later), a temp worker,starts stalking Derek, all the things he's worked so hard for are placed in jeopardy.

Packer serves as executive producer of the film. You can peep the movie trailer here.

You might also be interested in other movies by this talented Rattler duo: This Christmas

Stomp the Yard

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Lawsuits against accrediting agencies becoming routine

Two recent lawsuits by universities against an accrediting organization underscore the sometimes-contentious relationship between the groups that monitor quality in higher education and the institutions that try to meet those accreditors' benchmarks.

The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education placed four universities' pharmacy programs on probation in January for not meeting some of the council's standards and gave the institutions until June to shape up or risk losing the programs' accreditation altogether.

Those actions seemed unfair and undeserved to at least some of the universities, so they fought back through legal action. In February Xavier University of Louisiana filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans alleging that the council had violated its own rules and damaged the university's reputation.

Then in March Hampton University, in Virginia, filed a similar lawsuit in federal district court in its state.

Nova Southeastern University, in Florida, also is considering legal action even as it tries to remedy the problems identified by the council.

Palm Beach Atlantic University, also in Florida, was the fourth college placed on probation by the pharmacy council this year. David W. Clark, the university's president, said in a written statement that he believes the university has "addressed all the accreditors' concerns" and expects the institution's status to be restored in June.

Legal and accreditation experts said it is not uncommon for colleges to file lawsuits against accreditors, who risk a backlash as they try to enforce standards in ways that don't damage institutions' reputations or threaten their ability to improve.

Edward Waters College, in Florida, and Hiwassee College, in Tennessee, successfully went to court in 2005 to get their accreditation reinstated while their challenges to the accreditation process were being resolved.

An accreditor's negative ruling could discourage potential faculty members from seeking employment at an institution and scare prospective students from enrolling.

Colleges must be accredited by an organization that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its students to be eligible to receive federal financial aid. In addition, state licensing boards often require professional programs in the health fields to be accredited in order for students in those programs to be able to practice within the state.

"I think there’s a fine line the accreditors have to walk between taking actions that uphold their standards, but working with and fostering improvement in the institution," said Cynthia A. Davenport, executive director of the Association of Specialized & Professional Accreditors, a Chicago-based group representing about 50 national and regional accrediting organizations.

Xavier University settled its lawsuit with the accreditation council last month. The council rescinded the university's probation, but no other details of the settlement were made public.

Hampton University also did not meet the accreditor's standard for what it considers to be an adequate number of faculty members and was only partially compliant with the criterion for faculty salaries. The council has not filed a response to Hampton's complaint, and no hearings have yet been scheduled in the case.

Nova Southeastern was also told that it had too few faculty members and paid them too little.

Officials from those three universities argue that the benchmarks, especially for the number of faculty members, are not specifically defined by the pharmacy council. And the colleges say their situations are not unlike those at many other institutions across the country. They cited a recent survey by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, which found that faculty vacancies at pharmaceutical programs are a persistent national problem.

The main argument in the lawsuits filed by both Hampton and Xavier is that the accreditor did not follow due process, said Mark L. Pelesh, a lawyer and accreditation expert who now lobbies Congress and the U.S. Department of Education for Corinthian Colleges Inc. Courts generally give deference to the actual decisions and standards of accreditors, he said, so institutions are more likely to challenge accreditors' procedures.

In its complaint to the federal district court, Xavier said the council should have given the institution written notice that it was not in full compliance with accrediting standards before voting to place the pharmacy program on probation. Instead, Xavier said, the accreditor's board did not send that information until more than two weeks after making its judgment. The university also asserted it should have been given one year, rather than just six months, to fix the problems accreditors noted in a July letter to the institution.

Although probation is generally considered a limited action that gives the institution time to fix problems before facing more-severe sanctions, Hampton officials say that such a designation still hurts a university's reputation and that the courts are the only place for the institution to turn to repair the damage. Under the council's rules, Hampton cannot appeal probation to the accreditor's board and must place a notice on its School of Pharmacy's Web site that its doctoral program has been placed on probation.

Hampton has "no recourse, except for this suit, to challenge something that we feel is completely unfair and unwarranted," said Joyce M. Jarrett, the university's provost. "If they thought that only six months was necessary [to correct the problems], why put us on probation?"

Although students who graduate from the program while it is on probation will not be barred from practicing in Virginia, Ms. Jarrett worries that potential students might shy away from the university because of the uncertainty over whether the program will remain accredited until they graduate.

Andrés Malavé, dean of Nova Southeastern's College of Pharmacy, said that publicizing the university's probation by posting it on the Web site creates a stigma, making it more difficult to fix the very problems that the council has identified. The accreditor, he said, is saying probation "is not a negative action, but if anyone reads that we are on probation, they will not want to come here, faculty or students."

After July, Nova Southeastern will be spending about $500,000 more per year on faculty salaries, and all faculty members will be paid at least the national average for their positions, which Mr. Malavé believes will satisfy the accreditor's concern.

At the same time, the option to sue the pharmacy council is "still on the table," said Ken Ma, a spokesman for the university.

Frank B. Murray, an expert in accreditation and a professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware, said the lawsuits highlight many of the classic tensions between universities and accreditors, such as differences over whether benchmarks should be measured broadly, which allows lots of flexibility but also creates the potential for misunderstanding, or be based on more-rigid standards that leave no room for institutions to design programs that meet their particular needs.

For example, colleges and accreditors can have completely different views of how to provide adequate staffing if such a standard is not clearly defined. A college may decide to hire professionals who work in specific fields to teach part time in order to give students more exposure to real-world experience. But accreditors may want to see more full-time faculty members and accuse the college of trying to operate on the cheap.

Hampton's legal complaint raises another issue. The university noted that four historically black universities that operate pharmaceutical programs have been placed on probation by the pharmacy council over the past three years. In addition to the programs at Hampton and Xavier, those at Florida A & M and Howard Universities have been on probation.

At the same time, the pharmacy council last year gave six-year accreditation terms to two pharmacy programs elsewhere that were partially compliant or noncompliant with two of the council's standards, Hampton's complaint states, and gave two-year accreditation to seven programs that had three or more deficiencies.

Hampton is not charging the council with racial discrimination, Ms. Jarrett said. But she added that she has concerns about the council's recent actions against minority-serving institutions.

"I think one needs only look at the evidence. I am troubled that there seems to be a pattern," she said.