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History > 2008 > USA > Education (I)




This Land

A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up,



March 24, 2008
The New York Times



All lank and bone, the boy stands at the corner with his younger sister, waiting for the yellow bus that takes them to their respective schools. He is Billy Wolfe, high school sophomore, struggling.

Moments earlier he left the sanctuary that is his home, passing those framed photographs of himself as a carefree child, back when he was 5. And now he is at the bus stop, wearing a baseball cap, vulnerable at 15.

A car the color of a school bus pulls up with a boy who tells his brother beside him that he’s going to beat up Billy Wolfe. While one records the assault with a cellphone camera, the other walks up to the oblivious Billy and punches him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead.

The video shows Billy staggering, then dropping his book bag to fight back, lanky arms flailing. But the screams of his sister stop things cold.

The aggressor heads to school, to show friends the video of his Billy moment, while Billy heads home, again. It’s not yet 8 in the morning.

Bullying is everywhere, including here in Fayetteville, a city of 60,000 with one of the country’s better school systems. A decade ago a Fayetteville student was mercilessly harassed and beaten for being gay. After a complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights, the district adopted procedures to promote tolerance and respect — none of which seems to have been of much comfort to Billy Wolfe.

It remains unclear why Billy became a target at age 12; schoolyard anthropology can be so nuanced. Maybe because he was so tall, or wore glasses then, or has a learning disability that affects his reading comprehension. Or maybe some kids were just bored. Or angry.

Whatever the reason, addressing the bullying of Billy has become a second job for his parents: Curt, a senior data analyst, and Penney, the owner of an office-supply company. They have binders of school records and police reports, along with photos documenting the bruises and black eyes. They are well known to school officials, perhaps even too well known, but they make no apologies for being vigilant. They also reject any suggestion that they should move out of the district because of this.

The many incidents seem to blur together into one protracted assault. When Billy attaches a bully’s name to one beating, his mother corrects him. “That was Benny, sweetie,” she says. “That was in the eighth grade.”

It began years ago when a boy called the house and asked Billy if he wanted to buy a certain sex toy, heh-heh. Billy told his mother, who informed the boy’s mother. The next day the boy showed Billy a list with the names of 20 boys who wanted to beat Billy up.

Ms. Wolfe says she and her husband knew it was coming. She says they tried to warn school officials — and then bam: the prank caller beat up Billy in the bathroom of McNair Middle School.

Not long after, a boy on the school bus pummeled Billy, but somehow Billy was the one suspended, despite his pleas that the bus’s security camera would prove his innocence. Days later, Ms. Wolfe recalls, the principal summoned her, presented a box of tissues, and played the bus video that clearly showed Billy was telling the truth.

Things got worse. At Woodland Junior High School, some boys in a wood shop class goaded a bigger boy into believing that Billy had been talking trash about his mother. Billy, busy building a miniature house, didn’t see it coming: the boy hit him so hard in the left cheek that he briefly lost consciousness.

Ms. Wolfe remembers the family dentist sewing up the inside of Billy’s cheek, and a school official refusing to call the police, saying it looked like Billy got what he deserved. Most of all, she remembers the sight of her son.

“He kept spitting blood out,” she says, the memory strong enough still to break her voice.

By now Billy feared school. Sometimes he was doubled over with stress, asking his parents why. But it kept on coming.

In ninth grade, a couple of the same boys started a Facebook page called “Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe.” It featured a photograph of Billy’s face superimposed over a likeness of Peter Pan, and provided this description of its purpose: “There is no reason anyone should like billy he’s a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES.”


According to Alan Wilbourn, a spokesman for the school district, the principal notified the parents of the students involved after Ms. Wolfe complained, and the parents — whom he described as “horrified” — took steps to have the page taken down.

Not long afterward, a student in Spanish class punched Billy so hard that when he came to, his braces were caught on the inside of his cheek.

So who is Billy Wolfe? Now 16, he likes the outdoors, racquetball and girls. For whatever reason — bullying, learning disabilities or lack of interest — his grades are poor. Some teachers think he’s a sweet kid; others think he is easily distracted, occasionally disruptive, even disrespectful. He has received a few suspensions for misbehavior, though none for bullying.

Judging by school records, at least one official seems to think Billy contributes to the trouble that swirls around him. For example, Billy and the boy who punched him at the bus stop had exchanged words and shoves a few days earlier.

But Ms. Wolfe scoffs at the notion that her son causes or deserves the beatings he receives. She wonders why Billy is the only one getting beaten up, and why school officials are so reluctant to punish bullies and report assaults to the police.

Mr. Wilbourn said federal law protected the privacy of students, so parents of a bullied child should not assume that disciplinary action had not been taken. He also said it was left to the discretion of staff members to determine if an incident required police notification.

The Wolfes are not satisfied. This month they sued one of the bullies “and other John Does,” and are considering another lawsuit against the Fayetteville School District. Their lawyer, D. Westbrook Doss Jr., said there was neither glee nor much monetary reward in suing teenagers, but a point had to be made: schoolchildren deserve to feel safe.

Billy Wolfe, for example, deserves to open his American history textbook and not find anti-Billy sentiments scrawled across the pages. But there they were, words so hurtful and foul.

The boy did what he could. “I’d put white-out on them,” he says. “And if the page didn’t have stuff to learn, I’d rip it out.”

Online: A slide show of Billy Wolfe at nytimes.com/danbarry.

A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly, NYT, 24.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/24/us/24land.html






U.S. Eases ‘No Child’ Law

as Applied to Some States


March 19, 2008
The New York Times


The Bush administration, acknowledging that the federal No Child Left Behind law is diagnosing too many public schools as failing, said Tuesday that it would relax the law’s provisions for some states, allowing them to distinguish schools with a few problems from those that need major surgery.

“We need triage,” said Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education.

In a speech in St. Paul, Ms. Spellings said she would use her executive powers to allow potentially far-reaching changes to the way some states carried out the law this year, at a time when efforts by Congress to rewrite the law have stalled.

Under the new program, the federal Department of Education will give up to 10 states permission to focus reform efforts on schools that are drastically underperforming and intervene less forcefully in schools that are raising the test scores of most students but struggling with one group, like the disabled, for instance. The No Child law, which President Bush signed in 2002, was intended to force states to bring all students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014. In six years it has identified 9,000 of the nation’s 90,000 public schools as “in need of improvement,” the law’s term for failing, and experts predict that those numbers could multiply in coming years.

The rising number of failing schools is overwhelming states’ capacities to turn them around, and states have complained that the law imposes the same set of sanctions, which can escalate to a school’s closing, on the nation’s worst schools as well as those doing a reasonable job despite some problems.

The nation’s largest teachers union as well as some research groups who study the law welcomed Ms. Spellings’s announcement. “This is something good, something we’ve been advocating,” said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the teachers union.

But another national teachers union and a group that has supported the law’s goals of holding schools accountable for student progress criticized the proposal.

Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration official who is vice president of the conservative Thomas Fordham Foundation, said Ms. Spellings’s proposal was similar to one put forward by Democrats seeking to rewrite the law in Congress last year, which he derided at the time as “the Suburban Schools Relief Act.”

“This policy change is likely to let affluent suburban and rural schools off the hook,” he said.

States must apply by May 2 to the federal Department of Education to participate in the pilot program, and only those whose carrying out of the law has been virtually without blemish will be considered, Ms. Spellings said.

Ms. Spellings’s announcement sought to correct what critics considered to be one of the law’s most glaring weaknesses.

Under the law, schools must raise scores for all groups of students, in most grade levels: whites, blacks, Hispanics, the disabled, limited English speakers and so on. Schools that miss goals for several years running for any group are labeled “in need of improvement,” and their students become eligible for transfer to higher-scoring campuses and free, after-school tutoring. But the law has treated a school that misses targets for many student groups the same as a school falling short for only one.

Last year Democrats in Congress proposed that schools that missed testing targets for many groups still face drastic interventions, but schools that missed targets for only one group would no longer have to offer students transfers or free tutoring.

Ms. Spellings’s plan, in contrast, leaves it to states to outline how they would differentiate the treatment given to schools.

In her speech, Ms. Spellings suggested that states might propose to “send their most experienced and effective teachers to work in the neediest schools,” close others, and work with business and nonprofit groups to restructure still others. But she had no suggestions about how states might treat schools that were considered less urgent.

That provoked criticism from the Council of Great City Schools, a group that represents the nation’s 60 largest urban districts. Jeff Simering, the council’s legislative director, said city districts were more diverse than suburban schools and thus had more groups of students that could miss testing targets.

A result of the plan, Mr. Simering said, would be that “central city schools could wind up with the most serious consequences and that the suburban and rural schools would get the flexibility.”

The two teachers unions disagreed about the proposal.

In contrast to the praise from Mr. Weaver of the National Education Association, the largest union, Antonia Cortese, a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: “N.C.L.B. is in need of a dramatic overhaul and cannot be patched up with Band-Aids and pilot programs.”

Jack Jennings, a Democrat who heads a Washington research group that follows the enactment of the No Child law closely, praised the policy but noted that it could help Republican candidates in key states.

Among states that apply to participate in the program, priority will be given to those in which at least 20 percent of public schools receiving federal aid to poor children have been labeled as in need of improvement, Ms. Spellings said. That would include New York, where last year 600 schools were in that category. Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the New York Department of Education, said he was not certain whether New York would apply to participate.

U.S. Eases ‘No Child’ Law as Applied to Some States, NYT, 19.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/19/us/19child.html






At Charter School,

Higher Teacher Pay


March 7, 2008
The New York Times


Would six-figure salaries attract better teachers?

A New York City charter school set to open in 2009 in Washington Heights will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.

The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide.

The school’s creator and first principal, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, contends that high salaries will lure the best teachers. He says he wants to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality — not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives — is the crucial ingredient for success.

“I would much rather put a phenomenal, great teacher in a field with 30 kids and nothing else than take the mediocre teacher and give them half the number of students and give them all the technology in the world,” said Mr. Vanderhoek, 31, a Yale graduate and former middle school teacher who built a test preparation company that pays its tutors far more than the competition.

In exchange for their high salaries, teachers at the new school, the Equity Project, will work a longer day and year and assume responsibilities that usually fall to other staff members, like attendance coordinators and discipline deans. To make ends meet, the school, which will use only public money and charter school grants for all but its building, will scrimp elsewhere.

The school will open with seven teachers and 120 students, most of them from low-income Hispanic families. At full capacity, it will have 28 teachers and 480 students. It will have no assistant principals, and only one or two social workers. Its classes will have 30 students. In an inversion of the traditional school hierarchy that is raising eyebrows among school administrators, the principal will start off earning just $90,000. In place of a menu of electives to round out the core curriculum, all students will take music and Latin. Period.

While the notion of raising teacher pay to attract better candidates may seem simple, the issue is at the crux of policy debates rippling through school systems nationwide, over how teachers should be selected, compensated and judged, and whether teacher quality matters more than, say, class size.

Mr. Vanderhoek’s school, which was approved by the city’s Education Department and the State Board of Regents, is poised to be one of the country’s most closely watched educational experiments, one that could pressure the city and its teachers’ union to rethink the pay for teachers in traditional schools.

“This is an approach that has not been tried in this way in American education, and it opens up a slew of fascinating opportunities,” said Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “That $125,000 figure could have a catalytic effect.”

Yet the model is raising questions. Will two social workers be enough? Will even the most skillful teachers be able to handle classes of 30, several students more than the city average?

“I think they’ll have their hands full,” said Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton professor who studies the economics of education. “Paying teachers above market rate for hard-to-staff schools makes sense, don’t get me wrong. The question is, ‘How much do you want to tilt in that direction?’ ”

Michael Thomas Duffy, the city’s executive director for charter schools, said that even some Education Department staff members were skeptical, wondering, “If you’re putting all of your resources into teachers in the classroom, are you shorting some of the other aspects of what a good school requires?”

Mr. Vanderhoek won approval for the school after presenting city and state officials with a detailed proposal and budget. Mr. Duffy said the school could have a “tremendous impact” throughout the country. “If the department and the chancellor didn’t feel that this had a likelihood of success, we wouldn’t have approved it.”

The school’s students will be selected through a lottery weighted toward underperforming children and those who live nearby. It has generated so much buzz with its e-mail blasts and postings on education and employment Web sites that its voicemail message now implores prospective hires to please, make inquiries by e-mail.

“People are sort of stunned,” Mr. Vanderhoek said.

Ernest A. Logan, president of the city principals’ union, called the notion of paying the principal less than the teachers “the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s nice to have a first violinist, a first tuba, but you’ve got to have someone who brings them all together,” Mr. Logan said. “If you cheapen the role of the school leader, you’re going to have anarchy and chaos.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, called the hefty salaries “a good experiment.” But she said that when teachers were not unionized, and most charter school teachers are not, their performance can be hampered by a lack of power in dealing with the principal. “What happens the first time a teacher says something like, ‘I don’t agree with you?’ ”

Mr. Vanderhoek spent three years teaching at Intermediate School 90 in Washington Heights through Teach for America, which places recent college graduates in challenging schools. He started tutoring to supplement his salary and created a test preparation company called Manhattan GMAT in 2000.

The secret to the company’s success, he said, was to pay tutors $100 an hour as well as bonuses, compensation that was several times more than other companies paid.

Mr. Vanderhoek is trying to raise money to lease space in the neighborhood and build a permanent building. But he has made a strategic decision to cover other expenses with city, state and federal money, plus a few grants. “We’re saying, ‘Look, we can do it on public funding, and we want to inspire other people to do it on public funding.’ ”

The school’s teachers will be selected through a rigorous application process outlined on its Web site, www.tepcharter.org, and run by Mr. Vanderhoek. There will be telephone and in-person interviews, and applicants will have to submit multiple forms of evidence attesting to their students’ achievement and their own prowess; only those scoring at the 90th percentile in the verbal section of the GRE, GMAT or similar tests need apply. The process will culminate in three live teaching auditions.

Among those who have applied are a candidate who began teaching in the 1960s, founded a residential school for troubled adolescents, has a Ph.D in Latin and is working on a scholarly translation; and a would-be science teacher who has taught for more than a dozen years at some of the country’s top private schools.

Claudia Taylor, 29, applied to the Equity Project even though, she said, the thought of leaving the Harlem Village Academy, the charter school where she teaches reading, “breaks my heart.”

“I’m tired of making decisions about whether or not I can afford to go to a movie on a Friday night when I work literally 55 hours a week,” Ms. Taylor said. “It’s very frustrating. I’m feeling like I either have to leave New York City or leave teaching, because I don’t want to have a roommate at 30 years old.”

Ms. Taylor hesitated before applying, because the salary “almost doesn’t seem real.” Then she thought back on her three years teaching in the traditional public schools and determined that it could be, saying, “There is definitely a lot of money that you saw being wasted.”

Mr. Vanderhoek said he planned to be principal for at least four years. After that, who knows? He could be promoted to teacher.

At Charter School, Higher Teacher Pay, NYT, 7.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/07/nyregion/07charter.html






Next Question:

Can Students Be Paid to Excel?


March 5, 2008
The New York Times


The fourth graders squirmed in their seats, waiting for their prizes. In a few minutes, they would learn how much money they had earned for their scores on recent reading and math exams. Some would receive nearly $50 for acing the standardized tests, a small fortune for many at this school, P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

When the rewards were handed out, Jazmin Roman was eager to celebrate her $39.72. She whispered to her friend Abigail Ortega, “How much did you get?” Abigail mouthed a barely audible answer: $36.87. Edgar Berlanga pumped his fist in the air to celebrate his $34.50.

The children were unaware that their teacher, Ruth Lopez, also stood to gain financially from their achievement. If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.

School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.

Each of these schools has become a test to measure whether, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg posits, tangible cash rewards can turn a school around. Can money make academic success cool for students disdainful of achievement? Will teachers pressure one another to do better to get a schoolwide bonus?

So far, the city has handed out more than $500,000 to 5,237 students in 58 schools as rewards for taking several of the 10 standardized tests on the schedule for this school year. The schools, which had to choose to participate in the program, are all over the city.

“I’m not saying I know this is going to fix everything,” said Roland G. Fryer, the Harvard economist who designed the student incentive program, “but I am saying it’s worth trying. What we need to try to do is start that spark.”

Nationally, school districts have experimented with a range of approaches. Some are giving students gift certificates, McDonald’s meals and class pizza parties. Baltimore is planning to pay struggling students who raise their state test scores.

Critics of these efforts say that children should be inspired to learn for knowledge’s sake, not to earn money, and question whether prizes will ultimately lift achievement. Anticipating this kind of argument, New York City was careful to start the student experiment with private donations, not taxpayer money, avoiding some of the controversy that has followed the Baltimore program, which uses public money.

Some principals had no qualms about entering the student reward program. Virginia Connelly, the principal of Junior High School 123, in the Soundview section of the Bronx, has experimented with incentives for years, like rewarding good behavior, attendance and grades with play money that can be spent in the student store.

“We’re in competition with the streets,” Ms. Connelly said. “They can go out there and make $50 illegally any day of the week. We have to do something to compete with that.”

Barbara Slatin, the principal of P.S. 188, on the other hand, said she was initially skeptical about paying students for doing well. Her students, many of whom live in the nearby housing projects along Avenue D, would surely welcome the money, she said, but she worried about sending the wrong message. “I didn’t want to connect the notion of money with academic success,” she said.

But after a sales pitch by Dr. Fryer, Ms. Slatin said she was persuaded to try. “We say we want to do whatever it takes, so if this is it, I am going to get on board,” she said.

In 1996, P.S. 188 was considered to be failing by the State Education Department, but it has improved dramatically over the last decade. In the fall, it received an A on the city’s report card. Still, fewer than 60 percent of the students passed the state math test last year, and fewer than 40 percent did so in reading.

Teachers at the school said that this year, they had noticed a better attitude among the students, which they attributed to the incentive program. One recent day, fourth graders talked eagerly about the computer games they have been playing to get ready for this week’s state math exam. During the school’s recent winter break, dozens of students showed up for extra tutoring to prepare.

“My teacher told me to study more, so I study,” said Jazmin, who had already taken eight standardized exams this school year. “I did multiplication tables. I learned to divide.” When asked why she took so many tests, Jazmin replied earnestly, “To show them we have education and we learn stuff from education and the tests.”

The students spoke excitedly about their plans for the money. Several boys said they were saving for video games. Abigail said she would use it to pay for “a car, a house and college,” apparently unaware that the roughly $100 she’s earned this school year might not stretch that far. Another little girl said she would use the money simply for food. When asked to elaborate, she answered quietly, “Spaghetti.”

Changing the attitudes of seventh graders seems to be more complicated. At J.H.S. 123 in the Bronx, for example, a seventh-grade English class was asked one morning if there were too many standardized tests. Every hand in the room shot up to answer with a defiant yes. But at the same time, the students all agreed that receiving money for doing well on a test was a good idea, saying it made school more exciting, and made doing well more socially acceptable.

“This is the hardest grade to pass,” said Adonis Flores, a 13-year-old who has struggled in his classes at times. “This motivates us better. Everybody wants some money, and nobody wants to get left behind.”

Would it be better to get the money as college scholarships? Shouts of “No way!” echoed through the room. “We might not all go to college,” one student protested.

So is doing well in school cool? A few hands slowly inched up. But when their principal, Ms. Connelly, asked what could be done to make being the A-plus student seem as important as being the star basketball player, she was met with silence.

For teachers, bonuses come with ambivalence. So toxic was the idea of merit pay for individual teachers that the union insisted that bonus pools be awarded to whole schools to be divided up by joint labor-management committees, either evenly among union members or by singling out exceptional teachers.

Still, nearly 90 percent of the 200 schools offered the chance to join the teacher bonus program are participating, after a vote with each school’s chapter of the teachers’ union. At many schools this year, including P.S. 188 and J.H.S. 123, a decision has already been made to distribute any money they get across the board, and they are trying to include secretaries and other staff members as well.

No teachers were willing to say the rewards were unwelcome, but few said the potential windfall would push them to work harder.

“It’s better than a slap in the face,” said Ms. Lopez, who has taught at P.S. 188 for more than a decade. “But honestly, I don’t think about it. We’re here every day working and pushing; that’s what we’ve been doing for years. We don’t come into this for the money, and most of us don’t leave it because of the money.”

Newer teachers seemed more positive, saying the bonus was a rare chance to be rewarded.

“I tell my students all the time that I can sit in the back and hand them worksheets and get the same amount of money as I do if I stand in front of the class working with high energy the entire time,” said Christina Varghese, the lead math teacher at J.H.S. 123, who is in her 10th year of teaching. “What’s the motivation there? At least this gives us something to work toward.”

It will be months before Ms. Slatin and her teachers know whether they have earned the bonus, but initial test scores are promising. On one test designed to mimic the state math exam, 77 percent of fourth graders met state standards. Roughly half of those who did not were just below the cutoff, making it possible that more than 80 percent of the students would pass the test this year — a virtual dream for the school.

“We want to believe it, but it makes me nervous,” Ms. Slatin said. “Those are not numbers we are used to seeing.”

    Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel?, NYT, 5.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/nyregion/05incentive.html?hp






For Muslim Students,

a Debate on Inclusion


February 21, 2008
The New York Times


SAN JOSE — Amir Mertaban vividly recalls sitting at his university’s recruitment table for the Muslim Students Association a few years ago when an attractive undergraduate flounced up in a decidedly un-Islamic miniskirt, saying “Salamu aleykum,” or “Peace be upon you,” a standard Arabic greeting, and asked to sign up.

Mr. Mertaban also recalls that his fellow recruiter surveyed the young woman with disdain, arguing later that she should not be admitted because her skirt clearly signaled that she would corrupt the Islamic values of the other members.

“I knew that brother, I knew him very well; he used to smoke weed on a regular basis,” said Mr. Mertaban, now 25, who was president of the Muslim student group at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, from 2003 to 2005.

Pointing out the hypocrisy, Mr. Mertaban won the argument that the group could no longer reject potential members based on rigid standards of Islamic practice.

The intense debate over whether organizations for Muslim students should be inclusive or strict is playing out on college campuses across the United States, where there are now more than 200 Muslim Students Association chapters.

Gender issues, specifically the extent to which men and women should mingle, are the most fraught topic as Muslim students wrestle with the yawning gap between American college traditions and those of Islam.

“There is this constant tension between becoming a mainstream student organization versus appealing to students who have a more conservative or stricter interpretation of Islam,” said Hadia Mubarak, the first woman to serve as president of the national association, from 2004 to 2005.

Each chapter enjoys relative autonomy in setting its rules. Broadly, those at private colleges tend to be more liberal because they draw from a more geographically dispersed population, and the smaller numbers prompt Muslim students to play down their differences.

Chapters at state colleges, on the other hand, often pull from the community, attracting students from conservative families who do not want their children too far afield.

At Yale, for example, Sunnis and Shiites mix easily and male and female students shocked parents in the audience by kissing during the annual awards ceremony. Contrast that with the University of California, Irvine, which has the reputation for being the most conservative chapter in the country, its president saying that to an outsider its ranks of bearded young men and veiled women might come across as “way Muslim” or even extremist.

But arguments erupt virtually everywhere. At the University of California, Davis, last year, in their effort to make the Muslim association more “cool,” board members organized a large alcohol-free barbecue. Men and women ate separately, but mingled in a mock jail for a charity drive.

The next day the chapter president, Khalida Fazel, said she fielded complaints that unmarried men and women were physically bumping into one other. Ms. Fazel now calls the event a mistake.

At George Washington University, a dodge ball game pitting men against women after Friday prayers drew such protests from Muslim alumni and a few members that the board felt compelled to seek a religious ruling stating that Islamic traditions accept such an event.

Members acknowledge that the tone of the Muslim associations often drives away students. Several presidents said that if they thought members were being too lax, guest imams would deliver prayer sermons about the evils of alcohol or premarital sex.

Judgment can also come swiftly. Ghayth Adhami, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, recalled how a young student who showed up at a university recruitment meeting in a Budweiser T-shirt faced a few comments about un-Islamic dress. The student never came back.

Some members push against the rigidity. Fatima Hassan, 22, a senior at the Davis campus, organized a coed road trip to Reno, Nev., two hours away, to play the slot machines last Halloween. In Islam, Ms. Hassan concedes, gambling is “really bad,” but it was men and women sharing the same car that shocked some fellow association members.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Ms. Hassan said. “I am chill about that whole coed thing. I understand that in a Muslim context we are not supposed to hang out with the opposite sex, but it just happens and there is nothing you can do.”

But as Saif Inam, the vice president of the chapter at George Washington put it, “At the end of the day, I don’t want God asking me, ‘O.K. Saif, why did you organize events in which people could do un-Islamic things in big numbers?’ ”

The debate boils down to whether upholding gender segregation is forcing something artificial and vaguely hypocritical in an American context.

“As American Islam gets its own identity, it is going to have to shed some of these notions that are distant from American culture,” said Rafia Zakaria, a student at Indiana University. “The tension is between what forms of tradition are essential and what forms are open to innovation.”

American law says men and women are equal, whereas Muslim religious texts say they “complement” each other, Ms. Zakaria said. “If the law says they are equal, it’s hard to see how in their spiritual lives they will accept a whole different identity.”

The entire shift of the association from a foreign-run organization to an American one took place over arguments like this.

The Americans won out partly because the number of Muslim American college students hit a critical mass in the late 1990s, and then, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, foreign students, fearful of their visas being revoked, started avoiding a group that was increasingly political.

Some critics view strict interpretation of the faith as part of the association’s DNA. Organized in the 1960s by foreign students who wanted collective prayers where there were no mosques, the associations were basically little slices of Saudi Arabia. Women were banned. Only Muslim men who prayed, fasted and avoided alcohol and dating were welcomed. Meetings, even idle conversations, were in Arabic.

Donations from Saudi Arabia largely financed the group, and its leaders pushed the kingdom’s puritan, Wahhabi strain of Islam. Prof. Hamid Algar of the University of California, Berkeley, said that in the 1960s and 1970s, chapters advocated theological and political positions derived from radical Islamist organizations and would brook no criticism of Saudi Arabia.

That past has given the associations a reputation in some official quarters as a possible font of extremism, but experts in American Islam believe college campuses have become too diverse and are under too much scrutiny for the groups to foster radicals.

Zareena Grewal, a professor of religion and American studies at Yale, pointed to several things that would repel extremists. Members are trying to become more involved in the American political system, Professor Grewal said, and the heavy presence of women in the leadership would also deter them. Members “are not sitting around reading ‘How to Bomb Your Campus for Dummies,’ ” she said.

Its leaders think the organization is gradually relaxing a bit as it seeks to maintain its status as the main player for Muslim students.

“There were drunkards in the Prophet Muhammad’s community; there were fornicators and people who committed adultery in his community, and he didn’t reject them,” Mr. Mertaban said. “I think M.S.A.’s are beginning to understand this point that every person has ups and downs.”

For Muslim Students, a Debate on Inclusion, NYT, 21.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/21/education/21muslim.html






Stanford Set to Raise Aid

for Students in Middle


February 21, 2008
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — Stanford University on Wednesday became the latest prominent university to expand financial aid well into the middle class. It announced that students from families earning less than $100,000 a year would not be charged tuition.

Under the new system, which takes effect in the fall, families earning less than $60,000 would not pay for room and board.

Tuition next year is $36,030. Room and board add $11,182.

The move follows announcements of expanded aid by Harvard, Yale and many others that provide tuition breaks to families with incomes well above average as tuition increases have become an issue in Congress.

Yale said in January that it would sharply increase financial aid for undergraduates, even for families with annual incomes up to $200,000.

Karen Cooper, director of financial aid at Stanford, said the university would allot $21 million to financial aid, raising the aid total to $114 million. Ms. Cooper said the increase was the largest in the institution’s history.

“We heard very clearly from our parents, especially parents that considered themselves middle income, that the amount that we expected from them was very difficult,” Ms. Cooper said.

Students whose tuition, room and board are paid for will be expected to contribute about $4,500 a year from summer earnings and on-campus work, she said. For students whose tuition is waived, the university will continue to judge family assets and circumstances in determining aid.

Lawmakers in Washington have criticized wealthy colleges for continuing to increase tuitions even as their endowments swell. The lawmakers have raised the possibility of requiring colleges, which benefit from tax exemptions on donations, to spend at least 5 percent of their endowments a year, as private foundations are required to do. The Stanford endowment exceeds $17 billion.

“I hope we’re seeing a trend and a shift in thinking,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which has a central role in setting tax policy. “Spending a little more on students won’t break the bank for well-funded schools.”

The Stanford endowment is the third largest of American universities.

Ms. Cooper said the Stanford board approved last summer increasing the share of endowment spent annually to 5.5 percent. She said the current average aid package, including loans and on-campus work, totals about $32,000, meeting most of the cost of tuition.

If the wealthiest universities have been extending aid to families well into the reaches of the upper middle class, others have concentrated on reducing student debt by replacing loans with grants. Washington University in St. Louis on Wednesday became the latest in a parade of colleges replacing need-based loans with grants for students from families earning less than $60,000. Princeton University announced such a step a decade ago.

Overall, the actions are reshaping the financial aid landscape for students entering college next year and could mean that in some cases, attending some of the nation’s wealthiest and most elite private colleges could cost less than going to public universities.

    Stanford Set to Raise Aid for Students in Middle, NYT, 21.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/21/education/21tuition.html






As Lending Tightens,

Education Could Suffer


February 19, 2008
The New York Times


Major commercial education companies are scrambling to ensure a steady stream of college-level students despite the credit squeeze, with some preparing to offer student loans themselves.

The move shows how dependent this sector of education is on student loans and how vulnerable the industry could become if credit woes continue to make it harder for lenders to raise capital.

Commercial colleges largely offer practical education in fields like business, computers, health care and culinary arts, often catering to low-income students and students already in the work place.

Seeking to reassure investors, Corinthian Colleges Inc., one of the nation’s largest chains, recently said it was exploring “alternatives to help students fund their educational programs,” including expanding its own lending program and finding new lenders.

The Career Education Corporation, another large chain, has announced a similar effort.

ITT Educational Services Inc. recently announced a deal with three major banks to preserve students loans through the rest of the year.

And Universal Technical Institute Inc., which offers programs in fields like automotive, diesel and motorcycle repair, said it could lose tuition revenue if students default on subprime loans from an outside lender. About 3 percent of the company’s revenue now comes from such loans.

The credit concerns come on top of other changes disrupting the student loan industry.

Congress has moved to reduce subsidy payments to student lenders making federally guaranteed loans. Investors have shown little interest in buying securities backed by student loans, leading a Michigan state agency to suspend a private loan program for students.

And loan companies — most particularly Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest student lender — are tightening standards for private loans for students who have poor credit or attend institutions with low graduation rates. Private loans are not guaranteed by the federal government and can carry rates as high as credit cards.

“It’s akin to death by a thousand cuts,” said Gary Santo, a managing director at Fitch Ratings in New York who follows the student loan business.

So far, problems have yet to be felt by most students. But some in the lending industry have begun to warn that there may be fewer borrowing options, even for traditional students, in the fall, at least for private loans, which students turn to when they have exhausted federal borrowing and grant aid.

Members of Congress in letters to the Bush administration Friday also raised concerns.

“A crisis is looming in which students and families may not have access to student loans,” said Ben Kiser, a spokesman for Nelnet, a large lender based in Lincoln, Neb.

Financial aid administrators at some nonprofit colleges countered that they see no imminent crisis and said not only that many companies offer federally backed loans but that the federal government is a lender itself, through its direct loan program.

They said lenders, which fought hard against changes in the student loan program, have been too quick to say cuts in subsidies will reduce availability of loans.

“They cried wolf a lot,” said Eileen K. O’Leary, assistant vice president for finance at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., and a past chairwoman of the National Direct Student Loan Coalition, an alliance of colleges that participate in the direct loan program that was intended to make borrowing less costly by having the government provide loans directly to students.

“Will there be wholesale students not going to school?” she asked, “No, because federal money is still there.”

In some ways this should be a boom time for commercial colleges, with rising unemployment sending people back to school and falling interest rates translating, in theory, into cheaper student loans. But lenders, fearful of bad credit, are not cutting rates and have said they may not lend at all to students seen as high risks.

That makes commercial career colleges particularly vulnerable because they often draw low-income students with spotty education histories and they often charge considerably more than public two-year colleges.

“The for-profits typically have higher priced programs,” acknowledged Kimberly J. McWaters, president and chief executive of Universal Technical Institute.

The limits on federal borrowing mean students often must turn to private loans.

“We’ve got to be innovative and work together with students to give them access to cheaper money,” Ms. McWaters said. “Most of us have balance sheets that allow us to do so.”

Still, lending to students is a risk for commercial institutions because such a step exposes them to losses from defaults. While executives at the companies say they have the assets to back or make loans, they also acknowledge the risk.

In a regulatory filing last month, Corinthian warned investors that “increasing the amount our new students pay in cash and instituting stricter underwriting guidelines may slow our rate of enrollment growth. In addition, expanding our own lending program and guaranteeing third-party lenders against default may increase bad debt from current levels and decrease liquidity.”

Investors are showing concerns about the sector. Since November shares of Career Education have fallen by about 50 percent, to close at $17.33 on Friday, when the company also announced that it was closing two colleges and seven campuses of its Gibbs division, including the Katharine Gibbs School in New York, after failing to find a buyer for those operations.

Shares of Corinthian, which traded for more than $17 in December, closed Friday at $7.72. Shares of ITT Educational closed at $70.85 Friday, but were more than $130 in November. Universal Technical Institute shares have fallen by about a third since November, closing Friday at $15.31.

Many commercial educational programs are privately held and have not disclosed the impact that tightened credit markets may have on their business or what steps they are taking to make sure that students continue to enroll.

“The publicly traded schools are actually the best of the bunch,” said Trace A. Urdan, senior research analyst at Signal Hill Capital Group, which does not own shares in companies covered by its research.

Not everyone believes that retrenchment in commercial education would be bad. “High-risk borrowers with low academic achievement who are pursuing post-secondary training should not go to expensive, low-quality proprietary schools,” said Michael Dannenberg, director for education policy at the New America Foundation in Washington. “They would be better off going to community colleges, which are lower cost and open enrollment, for the most part.”

Not all commercial institutions are equally at risk. Some charge tuition low enough that it can be covered just by federal loans and so will be better able to ride out a credit crunch. Capella University, for example, got less than 1 percent of its revenue from private loans in 2007; the University of Phoenix, one of the biggest players in the industry, gets just 4 percent.

“We are not really seeing any impact on our business,” said Stephen G. Shank, chief executive of Capella.

    As Lending Tightens, Education Could Suffer, NYT, 19.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/business/19colleges.html






Seeking Campus Security,

but Gaps Likely to Persist


February 16, 2008
The New York Times


As a parent, Jay Spradling feels the same fear that campus shootings stir up in parents everywhere.

But as the assistant chief of police at Arizona State University, he also knows firsthand the frustration of university officials who say they can improve security, but cannot turn campuses into armed fortresses to prevent assaults like the shootings that killed five students at Northern Illinois University.

“It’s a struggle,” Chief Spradling said Friday, a day after a former student opened fire on a lecture hall in DeKalb, Ill. “I view these large schools, like A.S.U., as small cities. I don’t have a fence or gates around my university. It’s too big. There is free and open access.”

“I hate to say it,” he added, “but if parents are going to look for a university that is going to protect their child 100 percent, it’s just not going to happen in today’s society. You can’t keep a madman from walking on to your campus.”

The attack at Northern Illinois was at least the third shooting episode this month on a campus. A nursing student opened fire in a classroom filled with students at a technical college in Baton Rouge, La., last week, killing two women and then fatally wounding herself. The campus of Seton Hall University in New Jersey was briefly locked down this week after a man who was trying to see a student at the university shot himself.

The massacre at Virginia Tech last April, during which a mentally disturbed student killed 32 people in the worst shooting rampage in modern American history, led officials on campuses across the country to step up security, campus emergency communications and ways to spot students in emotional distress.

But as college officials once again dealt with terror in a classroom, more than a dozen campus police officials and university administrators said in interviews Friday that no matter how much they prepared there were limits to how safe they could keep their students.

“It is frustrating,” said Barry Feldman, vice president and chief operating officer at the University of Connecticut. “If you sat in on a meeting with anyone involved with student security, they are very frustrated. They understand the potential of stopping someone committed to harming people. The odds are probably stacked against us.”

That has not stopped them from trying. At the University of Kentucky, a group meets regularly, sifting reports from students, faculty and parents of students whose behavior suggests serious emotional problems. The committee members work to get students to counseling.

At the University of Virginia, the executive vice president and chief operating officer, Leonard Sandridge, reads a police report between 6 and 7 every morning, checking for incidents that suggest that a student or staff member might need help. “I personally review every incident we have had overnight that might indicate a student who is in distress,” Mr. Sandridge said.

At Arizona State and many other universities, the campus police have trained with local police forces to respond quickly and effectively to a shooting. At the University of Connecticut and the University of New Hampshire, sirens have been installed to notify students and professors of an emergency.

At these and hundreds of other universities, e-mail, cellphone and text messaging systems have been created or improved for quick notification. At Harvard, there are even preparations to use bullhorns in an emergency.

But the officials say the kinds of high-level security installed in places like airports and federal courthouses are neither practical nor desirable on their sprawling campuses. They cannot imagine turning open campuses into fortresses with fences, gates and metal detectors.

“It’s not feasible and it’s probably not desirable,” said Jo Ann Gora, president of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. “The campus is open to the community. There is not one single point of entry. We have 17,000 students, we have 60 buildings and we have 1,000 acres. We can’t have metal detectors.”

Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs at the Association of American Universities said: “If a campus is not open, then it’s not really a university. Universities are all about the open exchange of ideas.”

    Seeking Campus Security, but Gaps Likely to Persist, NYT, 16.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/16/us/16campus.html






6 Dead in N. Illinois U. Hall Shooting


February 15, 2008
Filed at 3:59 a.m. ET
The New York Times


DEKALB, Ill. (AP) -- A former student dressed in black walked onto the stage of a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire on a packed science class Thursday, killing five students, wounding 16 and setting off a panicked stampede before committing suicide.

Police say they have no motive for the rapid-fire assault, carried out by the gunman who fired indiscriminately into the crowd with a shotgun and two handguns as students dove to the floor and ran toward the exits. At least two of the wounded were hospitalized in critical condition.

''I kept thinking, `Oh God, he's going to shoot me. Oh God, I'm dead. I'm dead. I'm dead,''' said Desiree Smith, a senior journalism major who dropped to the floor near the back of the auditorium.

''People were crawling on each other, trampling each other,'' she said. ''As I got near the door, I got up and I started running.''

University President John Peters said four people died at the scene, including three students and the gunman, while the other two died at a hospital. The teacher, a graduate student, was wounded but was expected to recover.

Peters said the gunman was a former graduate student in sociology at NIU, but was not currently enrolled at the 25,000-student campus about 65 miles west of Chicago.

''It appears he may have been a student somewhere else,'' University Police Chief Donald Grady said. Authorities did not release any other details about the gunman or identify the victims.

Witnesses said the skinny gunman, dressed in black and wearing a stocking cap, emerged from behind a screen on the stage of 200-seat Cole Hall and opened fire just as the class was about to end around 3 p.m.

Officials said 162 students were registered for the class but it was unknown how many were there Thursday.

Lauren Carr said she was sitting in the third row when she saw the shooter walk through a door on the right-hand side of the stage, pointing a gun straight ahead.

''I personally Army-crawled halfway up the aisle,'' said Carr, a 20-year-old sophomore. ''I said I could get up and run or I could die here.''

She said a student in front of her was bleeding, ''but he just kept running.''

''I heard this girl scream, 'Run, he's reloading the gun!'''

Student Jerry Santoni was in a back row when he saw the gunman enter a service door to the stage.

''I saw him shoot one round at the teacher,'' he said. ''After that, I proceeded to get down as fast as I could.''

Santoni dived down, hitting his head the seat in front of him, leaving a knot about half the size of a pingpong ball on his forehead.

Eighteen victims were brought to Kishwaukee Community Hospital, where one died, according to the hospital's Web site. One male was transferred in critical condition and died at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, an official said.

Dan Parmenter, a 20-year-old sophomore from Elmhurst, Ill., was one of those killed, his stepfather, Robert Greer, told the Chicago Tribune.

''I'm not angry,'' Greer said. ''I'm just sad, and I know that right now what I need to do is comfort my wife.''

Minutes after the shooting erupted, students phoned each other and sent text messages even before school officials could warn them, many said. The school Web site announced a possible gunman on campus within 20 minutes of the shots and locked down the campus, part of a new security plan created after a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people last year.

''This is a tragedy, but from all indications we did everything we could when we found out,'' Peters said.

Michael Gentile was meeting with two of his students directly beneath the lecture hall when the shootings happened. He could hear the chaos a few feet above his head.

''The shotgun blast must have been so loud,'' said Gentile, a 27-year-old media studies instructor. ''It sounded like something was dropping down the stairs... We had no idea what this was.''

Then, shorter, sharper noises he recognized as handgun shots.

''There was a pretty quick succession ... just pow, pow, pow,'' said Gentile, who didn't leave his office for about 90 minutes. He used a surveillance camera just outside his office to confirm that the people knocking on his door were police.

George Gaynor, a senior geography student, who was in Cole Hall when the shooting happened, told the student newspaper the Northern Star that the shooter was ''a skinny white guy with a stocking cap on.''

He described the scene immediately following the incident as terrifying and chaotic.

''Some girl got hit in the eye, a guy got hit in the leg,'' Gaynor said outside just minutes after the shooting occurred. ''It was like five minutes before class ended too.''

Witnesses said the young man carried a shotgun and a pistol. Student Edward Robinson told WLS that the gunman appeared to target students in one part of the lecture hall.

''It was almost like he knew who he wanted to shoot,'' Robinson said. ''He knew who and where he wanted to be firing at.''

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sent 15 agents to the scene, according to spokesman Thomas Ahern. He said information about the weapons involved would be sent to the ATF's national database in Washington and given urgent priority. The FBI also was assisting.

All classes were canceled Thursday night and the campus was closed on Friday. Students were urged to call their parents ''as soon as possible'' and were offered counseling at any residence hall, according to the school Web site.

The school was closed for one day during final exam week in December after campus police found threats, including racial slurs and references to shootings earlier in the year at Virginia Tech, scrawled on a bathroom wall in a dormitory. Police determined after an investigation that there was no imminent threat and the campus was reopened. Peters said he knew of no connection between that incident and Thursday's attack.

The shooting was the fourth at a U.S. school within a week.

On Feb. 8, a woman shot two fellow students to death before committing suicide at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge. In Memphis, Tenn., a 17-year-old is accused of shooting and critically wounding a fellow student Monday during a high school gym class, and the 15-year-old victim of a shooting at an Oxnard, Calif., junior high school has been declared brain dead.


Associated Press writers Carla K. Johnson, Michael Tarm, David Mercer, Martha Irvine, Nguyen Huy Vu, Sarah Rafi and Mike Robinson contributed to this report.

    6 Dead in N. Illinois U. Hall Shooting, NYT, 15.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-NIU-Shooting.html






Global Classrooms

In Oil-Rich Mideast,

Shades of the Ivy League


February 11, 2008
The New York Times


DOHA, Qatar — On a hot October evening, hundreds of families flocked to the sumptuous Ritz Carlton here in this Persian Gulf capital for an unusual college fair, the Education City roadshow.

Qataris, Bangladeshis, Syrians, Indians, Egyptians — in saris, in suits, in dishdashis, in jeans — came to hear what it takes to win admission to one of the five American universities that offer degrees at Education City, a 2,500-acre campus on the outskirts of Doha where oil and gas money pays for everything from adventurous architecture to professors’ salaries.

Education City, the largest enclave of American universities overseas, has fast become the elite of Qatari education, a sort of local Ivy League. But the five American schools have started small, with only about 300 slots among them for next year’s entering classes. So there is a slight buzz of anxiety at the fair, which starts with a nonalcoholic cocktail hour, with fruit juices passed on silver trays as families circulate among the booths.

“I just came to get my mind together,” said Rowea al-Shrem, a junior in a head-to-toe black abaya who came to the fair on her own. “I wanted to know what to expect, so I don’t go crazy next year.”

At a time when almost every major American university is concerned with expanding its global reach, Education City provides a glimpse of the range of American expertise in demand overseas. Five universities have brought programs here, and more are on their way.

Cornell’s medical school, which combines pre-med training and professional training over six years, will graduate the first Qatar-trained physicians this spring. Virginia Commonwealth University brought its art and design program to Qatari women 10 years ago and began admitting men this year. Carnegie Mellon offers computer and business programs.

Texas A&M, the largest of the Education City schools, teaches engineering, with petroleum engineering its largest program. Georgetown’s foreign service school is the latest arrival. Soon, Northwestern University’s journalism program will come, too.

When the crowd files into the ballroom to hear about the admission process — first in English, with Arabic translation available through headphones, then later in Arabic — what it hears is much the same as at an information session for a selective American college.

“We want to see students who are passionate and dedicated,” Valerie Jeremijenko, Virginia Commonwealth’s dean of student affairs, tells the crowd. “It’s competitive, but don’t let that discourage you.”

She sounds all the familiar themes: Work hard this year, so you can get great recommendations. Participate in extracurricular activities. Do not obsess about SAT scores, because we look at the whole person.

Education City is so firmly ensconced as the gold standard here that many students apply to several of its schools, knowing that their career will be determined by where they are accepted.

When Dana Hadan was a student at Doha’s leading girls’ science high school, she wanted to be a doctor and applied to Cornell’s medical school. But Cornell rejected her, and her parents did not want her to go to a medical school overseas. So Ms. Hadan enrolled instead in the business program at Carnegie Mellon.

Now, as a third-year student, she is happily learning macroeconomics and marketing. “I was never interested in business, but now I’m passionate about it,” said Ms. Hadan, a lively 20-year-old.

She never considered the locally run Qatar University: “I knew I wanted Education City,” she said.

Admission standards, degree requirements and curriculum — complete, in most cases, with an introductory two years of broad liberal arts — at the Education City schools are the same as at the American home campuses. So is the philosophy of teaching.

“There are lots of programs in different countries that are ‘kind of like,’ ‘in partnership with,’ or ‘inspired by’ American education,” said Charles E. Thorpe, the dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar. “But this is American education. And for many of our students, that’s a very big change. Almost all of them went to single-sex secondary schools. As recently as six years ago, the elementary reader in Qatar was the Koran, so students learned beautiful classical Arabic, but they had no experience with questions like ‘What do you think the author meant by that?’ or ‘Do you agree or disagree?’ ”

Education City is in many ways a study in contradictions, an island of American-style open debate in what remains an Islamic monarchy, albeit a liberal one by regional standards. Education City graduates will be a broadly educated elite, who have had extended contact with American professors and American ways of thinking, and, in some cases, spent time at their school’s home campus back in the United States.

Although it is still small and new, it could be a seedbed of change, with a profound impact on Qatar’s future and its relations with the United States — and perhaps, some Qatari parents worry, on their traditional way of life.


Opportunities for Women

Education City represents broad opportunities for women, in a nation where many families do not allow their daughters to travel overseas for higher education or to mix casually with men. Cornell stresses, proudly, that it was Qatar’s first coeducational institution of higher learning.

The female students are very much aware of their new opportunities and the support they have received from Sheika Mozah Bint Nasser al-Missned, the emir’s second wife and a strong advocate of women’s education. She is chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation, which runs Education City.

“I don’t want my father’s money or my husband’s money,” said Maryam al-Ibrahim, a 21-year-old second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth. “I want to work for a private company and be myself, and I would like to become someone important here.”

Mais Taha, a Texas A&M petroleum-engineering student, glows as she talks about her classes, including Reservoir Fluids — hydrocarbons, she explains sweetly — and Drilling.

“I’m one of the first Qatari girls willing to go out in the field and put on a coverall,” she said. “All the technicians were treating me as a princess, because I’d come in wearing an abaya, and then go out in overalls. And I can’t wait until I can go out and work on a rig.”

No wonder, then, that some Qatari parents are wary of Education City. “I know some girls who applied here, and their parents said they were not supposed to be hanging out with guys, but when they came they realized they had to, because of homework and projects,” Ms. Hadan said.

Carnegie Mellon feels like an American institution, with Mental Health Month posters on attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression, Starbucks and the student bake sale, where Reem Khaled, preparing a business project, sells Betty Crocker brownies and pineapple cake and surveys customer interest in healthier options.

How much to localize the curriculum is an ongoing issue at the Education City schools, where officials sometimes find that problems and ideas transposed from America do not necessarily make much sense. “We had a problem that involved a boy whose after-school job was shoveling snow for so much an hour,” Mr. Thorpe said. The snow was not a problem, since Qataris had seen snow on television, he said. What was fundamentally unfamiliar was the concept of an after-school job.

The Education City schools often mirror American campus culture: Texas A&M holds the Aggie Muster every April, just like the College Station, Tex., campus. And at Carnegie Mellon, Ms. Hadan, working with the student government, helped organize “Crazy Week,” culminating in Tartan Day, when students wear the Carnegie Mellon plaid. “Everyone has at least a T-shirt,” she said. But on Pajama Day, the divide between Qataris and non-Qataris, a majority of Carnegie Mellon’s students, became clearer than ever. Some non-Qatari students arrived in full sleep regalia, complete with fuzzy slippers and teddy bears.

Ms. Hadan and the other Qataris remained in traditional dress, women in black abayas and head scarves, men in long white robes and headdresses. “Because of my culture, I couldn’t wear pajamas; it’s too embarrassing,” said Khalid al-Sooj, 19.

For many Education City students, one big draw is the opportunity to visit the American home campus, whether for a semester or a few weeks.

“I want to live that experience of studying abroad, because I believe it makes you grow,” said Ms. Hadan, who is spending the spring semester in Pittsburgh, with her parents’ blessing.

Whether the job market will view Education City graduates the same as American graduates of the same schools is not yet clear. The big test is approaching, as Cornell’s inaugural class applies for its medical residencies.

“We’re about to find out if they’re accepted the same as Cornell graduates in New York,” said Dr. Daniel Alonso, the dean of Weill Cornell medical school in Qatar. “They’ve been doing as well on the tests, but it remains to be seen.”

Cornell graduates in New York typically apply for 20 or 30 residencies to sure that they get a place, Dr. Alonso said. But uncertainty among the Qatar graduates prompted Khalid al-Khelaifi to apply to more than 60 American residency programs, just to be safe.

“We’re the first batch, so no one knows how we’ll do,” he said.Paying the Bills

Education City is an expensive experiment, made possible by Qatar’s immense oil and gas wealth. For the Cornell medical school alone, the Qatar Foundation promised $750 million over 11 years.

While American universities in other parts of the world look to tuition to support their overseas branches, the branches in Qatar depend on government largess: Qatar pays for the architecturally stunning classroom buildings, the faculty salaries and housing and transportation, and it has made multimillion-dollar gifts to the Education City universities.

“Had the Qatar Foundation not been willing to provide the level of support it did, we wouldn’t have considered going beyond a study-abroad site,” said Mark Weichold, dean of Texas A&M in Qatar.

Dr. Abdulla al-Thani, the Qatar Foundation’s vice president for education, declined to discuss specific gifts but said the foundation had often endowed chairs at the universities that have agreed to come to Education City.

Probably the biggest hurdle for American universities in Qatar is getting the right number and mix of faculty members. Even with free housing, bonus pay and big tax advantages, few professors want to relocate to the Persian Gulf, so many schools depend in good part on “fly-bys” who come for three or four weeks from the United States to give a series of lectures.

“We have half a dozen faculty who moved to Qatar, and 30 or 40 who go for a couple weeks,” said Dr. Antonio M. Gotto Jr., dean of Weill Cornell Medical School in New York. “We’re trying to recruit as many faculty as possible who will stay over there. About 15 percent of our lectures are through videoconferencing and ideally, I’d like to get that down to 5 percent.”

While the Qatar branches have a natural attraction for certain professors — Texas A&M’s petroleum engineers, say, or Georgetown’s experts in Middle Eastern politics — the Gulf does not interest everyone.

“You don’t get the full range of faculty here,” said Lynn Carter, a computer-science professor in his 19th year at Carnegie Mellon and his second of a three-year contract to teach in Qatar. “You get a lot of people at the end of their careers. It’s not good for young faculty with mortgages and young kids and tenure hopes. Coming to Qatar, where you don’t have graduate students and research grants, does you no good for getting tenure.”

While each Education City school offers a specialized program, Qatar hopes to meld them into a new entity, almost like a university whose departments are all independent. Students are encouraged to cross-register, so that Texas A&M’s engineering students can take art classes at Virginia Commonwealth.

“Personally, I like what the liberal arts do in the United States, but if you look at what our country needs right now, we need people trained in the oil and gas areas, we need doctors, we need media, so those are the programs we are bringing in,” said Dr. Thani, of the Qatar Foundation. “Now we are trying to create synergy between the different schools on campus, so it will offer more of what a large university would offer.”

In a nation where many Qataris, with their maids and drivers, live quite apart from the non-Qataris who make up most of the population, Education City mixes students of all nationalities. About half of the students are Qataris, and while they have some advantages — including a yearlong academic program to bolster the skills of those seeking admission — the Qatar Foundation supports non-Qataris, too, forgiving tuition loans to those who stay to work in Qatar after getting their degree.

“We think diversity is something very good, and we do not want to reduce our standards to admit more Qataris,” Dr. Thani said.


Opening Young Minds

Many Education City students are excited by their exposure to the broad array of cultures and new ways of thinking. At Georgetown, for example, “The Problem of God,” a required course, is immensely popular.

“It was amazing,” said Ibrahim al-Derbasti, a Qatari student. “We had Christians, Muslims, Hindus and an atheist. We talked about the difference between faith and religion. I had lived in Houston for four years, but I never understood the Trinity. Now I get it. Well, I don’t really get how Jesus is the son of God, but I understand the idea.”

In Gary Wasserman’s “U.S. Political Systems” course at Georgetown, a class on the 1977 litigation over neo-Nazis’ right to demonstrate in Skokie, Ill., quickly took a different course than it might have in an American classroom, with more students concerned with the problems of unfettered free speech. “It’s complicated, because in protecting civil liberties of one group you might be taking away the civil rights of others,” said Tara Makarem, a Lebanese-Syrian student, who had been troubled by the Danish publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in 2006.

And, a Saudi freshman wondered, if the A.C.L.U. defended the Nazis’ right to express hateful views in Skokie, why did no one protect Don Imus — he called him “Amos” — from losing his radio job for making racially offensive remarks of a kind accepted in rap lyrics?

Professor Wasserman, who previously taught in China, tried to find answers, talking about commercial pressures on broadcasters.

But Mohammed, the Saudi student who did not want his full name used, was still puzzled. “It’s almost like they added another thing to the Bill of Rights, the right for every American not to be offended,” he mused.

Such discussions make Qatar an invigorating place to teach, Professor Wasserman said.

“They come up with questions you hadn’t thought of,” he said. “You see how much they want to be a part of a globalized world, but you also see that they don’t want to have to give up their faith, their family, their traditions. And why should they?”

    In Oil-Rich Mideast, Shades of the Ivy League, NYT, 11.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/11/education/11global.html






Global Classrooms

Universities Rush

to Set Up Outposts Abroad


February 10, 2008
The New York Times


When John Sexton, the president of New York University, first met Omar Saif Ghobash, an investor trying to entice him to open a branch campus in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Sexton was not sure what to make of the proposal — so he asked for a $50 million gift.

“It’s like earnest money: if you’re a $50 million donor, I’ll take you seriously,” Mr. Sexton said. “It’s a way to test their bona fides.” In the end, the money materialized from the government of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates.

Mr. Sexton has long been committed to building N.Y.U.’s international presence, increasing study-abroad sites, opening programs in Singapore, and exploring new partnerships in France. But the plans for a comprehensive liberal-arts branch campus in the Persian Gulf, set to open in 2010, are in a class by themselves, and Mr. Sexton is already talking about the flow of professors and students he envisions between New York and Abu Dhabi.

The American system of higher education, long the envy of the world, is becoming an important export as more universities take their programs overseas.

In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American universities — not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia — are starting, or expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China, India and Singapore.

And many are now considering full-fledged foreign branch campuses, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. Already, students in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar can attend an American university without the expense, culture shock or post-9/11 visa problems of traveling to America.

At Education City in Doha, Qatar’s capital, they can study medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, international affairs at Georgetown, computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth, engineering at Texas A&M, and soon, journalism at Northwestern.

In Dubai, another emirate, Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology will offer classes this fall.

“Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities,” said Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India. “We’ll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, internationalization has moved high on the agenda at most universities, to prepare students for a globalized world, and to help faculty members stay up-to-date in their disciplines.

Overseas programs can help American universities raise their profile, build international relationships, attract top research talent who, in turn, may attract grants and produce patents, and gain access to a new pool of tuition-paying students, just as the number of college-age Americans is about to decline.

Even public universities, whose primary mission is to educate in-state students, are trying to establish a global brand in an era of limited state financing.

Partly, it is about prestige. American universities have long worried about their ratings in U.S. News and World Report. These days, they are also mindful of the international rankings published in Britain, by the Times Higher Education Supplement, and in China, by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The demand from overseas is huge. At the University of Washington, the administrator in charge of overseas programs said she received about a proposal a week. “It’s almost like spam,” said the official, Susan Jeffords, whose position as vice provost for global affairs was created just two years ago.

Traditionally, top universities built their international presence through study-abroad sites, research partnerships, faculty exchanges and joint degree programs offered with foreign universities. Yale has dozens of research collaborations with Chinese universities. Overseas branches, with the same requirements and degrees as the home campuses, are a newer — and riskier — phenomenon.

“I still think the downside is lower than the upside is high,” said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania. “The risk is that we couldn’t deliver the same quality education that we do here, and that it would mean diluting our faculty strength at home.”

While universities with overseas branches insist that the education equals what is offered in the United States, much of the faculty is hired locally, on a short-term basis. And certainly overseas branches raise fundamental questions:

Will the programs reflect American values and culture, or the host country’s? Will American taxpayers end up footing part of the bill for overseas students? What happens if relations between the United States and the host country deteriorate? And will foreign branches that spread American know-how hurt American competitiveness?

“A lot of these educators are trying to present themselves as benevolent and altruistic, when in reality, their programs are aimed at making money,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who has criticized the rush overseas.

David J. Skorton, the president of Cornell, on the other hand, said the global drive benefited the United States. “Higher education is the most important diplomatic asset we have,” he said. “I believe these programs can actually reduce friction between countries and cultures.”


Tempering Expectations

While the Persian Gulf campus of N.Y.U. is on the horizon, George Mason University is up and running — though not at full speed — in Ras al Khaymah, another one of the emirates.

George Mason, a public university in Fairfax, Va., arrived in the gulf in 2005 with a tiny language program intended to help students achieve college-level English skills and meet the university’s admission standards for the degree programs that were beginning the next year.

George Mason expected to have 200 undergraduates in 2006, and grow from there. But it enrolled nowhere near that many, then or now. It had just 57 degree students — 3 in biology, 27 in business and 27 in engineering — at the start of this academic year, joined by a few more students and programs this semester.

The project, an hour north of Dubai’s skyscrapers and 7,000 miles from Virginia, is still finding its way. “I will freely confess that it’s all been more complicated than I expected,” said Peter Stearns, George Mason’s provost.

The Ras al Khaymah campus has had a succession of deans. Simple tasks like ordering books take months, in part because of government censors. Local licensing, still not complete, has been far more rigorous than expected. And it has not been easy to find interested students with the SAT scores and English skills that George Mason requires for admissions.

“I’m optimistic, but if you look at it as a business, you can only take losses for so long,” said Dr. Abul R. Hasan, the academic dean, who is from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. “Our goal is to have 2,000 students five years from now. What makes it difficult is that if you’re giving the George Mason degree, you cannot lower your standards.”

Aisha Ravindran, a professor from India with no previous connection to George Mason, teaches students the same communications class required for business majors at the Virginia campus — but in the Arabian desert, it lands differently.

Dr. Ravindran uses the same slides, showing emoticons and lists of nonverbal taboos to spread the American business ideal of diversity and inclusiveness. She emphasizes the need to use language that includes all listeners.

And suddenly, there is an odd mismatch between the American curriculum and the local culture. In a country where homosexual acts are illegal, Dr. Ravindran’s slide show suggests using “partner” or “life partner,” since “husband” or “wife” might exclude some listeners. And in a country where mosques are ubiquitous, the slides counsel students to avoid the word “church” and substitute “place of worship.”

The Ras al Khaymah students include Bangladeshis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Indians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and more, most from families that can afford the $5,400-a-semester tuition. But George Mason has attracted few citizens of the emirates.

The students say they love the small classes, diversity and camaraderie. Their dorm feels much like an American fraternity house, without the haze of alcohol. Some praise George Mason’s pedagogy, which they say differs substantially from the rote learning of their high schools.

“At my local school in Abu Dhabi, it was all what the teachers told you, what was in the book,” said Mona Bar Houm, a Palestinian student who grew up in Abu Dhabi. “Here you’re asked to come up with your personal ideas.”

But what matters most, they say, is getting an American degree. “It means something if I go home to Bangladesh with an American degree,” said Abdul Mukit, a business student. “It doesn’t need to be Harvard. It’s good enough to be just an American degree.”

Whether that degree really reflects George Mason is open to question. None of the faculty members came from George Mason, although that is likely to change next year. The money is not from George Mason, either: Ras al Khaymah bears all the costs.

Nonetheless, Sharon Siverts, the vice president in charge of the campus, said: “What’s George Mason is everything we do. The admissions are done at George Mason, by George Mason standards. The degree programs are Mason programs.”


Seeking a Partnership

Three years ago, Mr. Ghobash, the Oxford-educated investor from the United Arab Emirates, heard a presentation by a private company, American Higher Education Inc., trying to broker a partnership between Kuwait and an American university.

Mr. Ghobash, wanting to bring liberal arts to his country, hired the company to submit a proposal for a gulf campus run by a well-regarded American university. American Higher Education officials said they introduced him to N.Y.U. Mr. Ghobash spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the company’s fees, talked with many N.Y.U. officials and paid for a delegation to visit the emirates before meeting Mr. Sexton, the university president, in June 2005.

Mr. Sexton said he solicited the $50 million gift to emphasize that he was not interested in a business-model deal and that academic excellence was expensive. Mr. Ghobash declined to be interviewed. But according to American Higher Education officials, $50 million was more than Mr. Ghobash could handle.

So when the agreement for the Abu Dhabi campus New York University was signed last fall, Mr. Ghobash and the company were out of the picture, and the government of Abu Dhabi — the richest of the emirates — was the partner to build and operate the N.Y.U. campus. The Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi made the gift in November 2007.

“The crown prince shares our vision of Abu Dhabi becoming an idea capital for the whole region,” Mr. Sexton said. “We’re going to be a global network university. This is central to what N.Y.U. is going to be in the future. There’s a commitment, on both sides, to have both campuses grow together, so that by 2020, both N.Y.U. and N.Y.U.-Abu Dhabi will in the world’s top 10 universities.”

Neither side will put a price tag on the plan. But both emphasize their shared ambition to create an entity central to the intellectual life not just of the Persian Gulf but also of South Asia and the Middle East.

“We totally buy into John’s view of idea capitals,” said Khaldoon al-Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority. “This is not a commercially driven relationship. It’s a commitment to generations to come, to research. We see eye to eye. We see this as a Catholic marriage. It’s forever.”

It is also, for New York University, a chance to grow, given Abu Dhabi’s promise to replace whatever the New York campus loses to the gulf.

“If, say, 10 percent of the physics department goes there, they will pay to expand the physics department here by 10 percent,” Mr. Sexton said. “That’s a wonderful opportunity, and we think our faculty will see it that way and step up.”

Mr. Sexton is leading the way: next fall, even before the campus is built, he plans to teach a course in Abu Dhabi, leaving New York every other Friday evening, getting to Abu Dhabi on Saturday, teaching Sunday and returning to his New York office Monday morning.

“The crown prince loved the idea and said he wanted to take the class,” Mr. Sexton said. “But I said, ‘No, think how that would be for the other students.’ ”


Uncharted Territory

While the gulf’s wealth has drawn many American universities, others dream of China’s enormous population.

In October, the New York Institute of Technology, a private university offering career-oriented training, opened a Nanjing campus in collaboration with Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and dozens of American universities offer joint or dual degrees through Chinese universities.

Kean University, a public university in New Jersey, had hoped mightily to be the first with a freestanding undergraduate campus in China. Two years ago, Kean announced its agreement to open a branch of the university in Wenzhou in September 2007. Whether the campus will materialize remains to be seen. Kean is still awaiting final approval from China, which prefers programs run through local universities.

“I’m optimistic,” said Dawood Farahi, Kean’s president. “I’m Lewis and Clark, looking for the Northwest Passage.”

In fact, his negotiations have been much like uncharted exploration. “It’s very cumbersome negotiating with the Chinese,” he said. “The deal you struck yesterday is not necessarily good today. The Chinese sign an agreement, and then the next day, you get a fax saying they want an amendment.” Still, he persists, noting, “One out of every five humans on the planet is Chinese.”

Beyond the geopolitical, there are other reasons, pedagogic and economic.

“A lot of our students are internationally illiterate,” Dr. Farahi said. “It would be very good for them to have professors who’ve taught in China, to be able to study in China, and to have more awareness of the rest of the world. And I think I can make a few bucks there.” Under the accord, he said, up to 8 percent of the Wenzhou revenues could be used to support New Jersey.

With state support for public universities a constant challenge, new financing sources are vital, especially for lesser-known universities. “It’s precisely because we’re third tier that I have to find things that jettison us out of our orbit and into something spectacular,” Dr. Farahi said.


Possibilities and Alarms

Most overseas campuses offer only a narrow slice of American higher education, most often programs in business, science, engineering and computers.

Schools of technology have the most cachet. So although the New York Institute of Technology may not be one of America’s leading universities, it is a leading globalizer, with programs in Bahrain, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, Canada, Brazil and China.

“We’re leveraging what we’ve got, which is the New York in our first name and the Technology in our last name,” said Edward Guiliano, the institute’s president. “I believe that in the 21st century, there will be a new class of truly global universities. There isn’t one yet, but we’re as close as anybody.”

Some huge universities get a toehold in the gulf with tiny programs. At a villa in Abu Dhabi, the University of Washington, a research colossus, offers short courses to citizens of the emirates, mostly women, in a government job-training program.

“We’re very eager to have a presence here,” said Marisa Nickle, who runs the program. “In the gulf, it’s not what’s here now, it’s what’s coming. Everybody’s on the way.”

Some lawmakers are wondering how that rush overseas will affect the United States. In July, the House Science and Technology subcommittee on research and science education held a hearing on university globalization.

Mr. Rohrabacher, the California lawmaker, raises alarms. “I’m someone who believes that Americans should watch out for Americans first,” he said. “It’s one thing for universities here to send professors overseas and do exchange programs, which do make sense, but it’s another thing to have us running educational programs overseas.”

The subcommittee chairman, Representative Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat, disagrees. “If the U.S. universities aren’t doing this, someone else likely will,” he said. “I think it’s better that we be invited in than that we be left out.”

Still, he said he worried that the foreign branches could undermine an important American asset — the number of world leaders who were students in the United States.

“I do wonder,” he said, “if we establish many of these campuses overseas, do we lose some of that cross-pollination”

    Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad, NYT, 10.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/education/10global.html






Endowments Widen

a Higher Education Gap


February 4, 2008
The New York Times


Allan T. Demaree, a retired executive editor of Fortune magazine, gladly makes donations to Princeton University, his alma mater, even though he knows it has become one of the wealthiest educational institutions in the world. His son, who also went to Princeton, points to its endowment of $15.8 billion, and will not give it a penny.

“Why give money to an institution that can seemingly live off its interest when other very deserving entities need money to function tomorrow?” asked the son, Heath Demaree, a professor at Case Western Reserve University who instead donates to Virginia Tech, where he was a graduate student.

His question captures how the wealth amassed by elite universities like Princeton through soaring endowments over the past decade has exacerbated the divide between a small group of spectacularly wealthy universities and all others. If Harvard has $34.9 billion or Yale $22.5 billion, fewer than 400 of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities in the United States had even $100 million in endowments in the fiscal year that ended in June. Most had less than $10 million.

The result is that America’s already stratified system of higher education is becoming ever more so, and the chasm is creating all sorts of tensions as the less wealthy colleges try to compete. Even state universities are going into fund-raising overdrive and trying to increase endowments to catch up.

The wealthiest colleges can tap their endowments to give substantial financial aid to families earning $180,000 or more. They can lure star professors with high salaries and hard-to-get apartments. They are starting sophisticated new research laboratories, expanding their campuses and putting up architecturally notable buildings.

Other campuses are fighting to retain faculty, and some, with less cachet, are charging tuition that rival Harvard’s and scrambling to explain why their financial aid cannot match the most prosperous of the Ivy League.

“It’s a huge difference,” said Sandy Baum, an economist at Skidmore College. “You don’t have to go very far down the food chain before you get to institutions that feel real constraints about how they spend money. Princeton can do what they want to do, but not many schools can.”

Skidmore, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is not exactly poor; its endowment reached $287 million last year. But the growth alone in Harvard’s endowment last year was $5.7 billion — a sum bigger than all but 14 other universities’ total endowments.

Higher education has always been stratified, but the disparities were never as large as today. In the early 1990s, endowment income represented a small part of revenues at most colleges and universities. In 1990 Harvard’s endowment was $4.4 billion.

The last decade brought a sea change, as sophisticated money managers hired by the universities moved their portfolios into hedge funds, private equities and other high-performing investments, and endowments skyrocketed.

Yale’s recent decision to raise the amount of money it draws from its endowment by more than $300 million, for example, will give it $1.2 billion in revenue from the endowment alone — roughly 45 percent of its yearly budget. Princeton is also at this level.

Until recently, top public research universities could count on enough public subsidy to hold their own, when the taxpayer money was combined with tuition and fund-raising.

“Having state support was akin to having an endowment,” said Donald E. Frey, an economics professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

But that world is changing.

The University of California, Berkeley, a prestigious public institution, has a $3 billion endowment, but it is stretched across 34,000 students. And with state budget cuts looming, Robert J. Birgeneau, its chancellor, says he fears he will no longer be able to attract the best professors and students.

“It will cost less for a student from a family with an income of $180,000 to go to Harvard than for a student with a family income of $90,000 to go to Berkeley,” he said, taking into account Harvard’s recent decision to give more financial aid to families earning up to $180,000 annually.

“I’m not criticizing Harvard,” Dr. Birgeneau added. “They have done a great thing. I wish we were in a position to do it.”

His answer is to build a larger endowment. Last year, Berkeley used a $113 million gift from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to create an endowed fund to subsidize professors’ salaries and to help recruit top graduate students. (The average salary for full professors at Berkeley in 2006-2007 was $131,300, compared with $177,400 at Harvard, according to the American Association of University Professors.)Now Dr. Birgeneau wants to up the ante, with an $800 million fund for student financial aid, to help Berkeley remain affordable to low- and middle-income students. He says half could be raised from donors, and the rest could come from the state.

Others, too, are seizing on the idea of endowments for public universities. Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York recently proposed creating a $4 billion endowment for public universities, to be paid for by selling part of the state’s lottery business.

Virginia Tech, a state institution with a $525 million endowment, is allocating nearly one-third of the money received in its current $1 billion fund-raising campaign to its endowment.

Even as colleges race to raise their endowments, high tuitions have caused a backlash among parents, graduates and members of Congress, criticizing them for sitting on wealth. Typically, colleges spend less than 5 percent a year from their endowments.

“These institutions continue to build up their kitties,” said Representative John F. Tierney, Democrat of Massachusetts. “They say it is the schools’ money. But it is not all the schools’ money. Some of it is. But when a donor gives them money, he is able to give more because he is not paying taxes. So some of what they have is federal money, every student’s money, every family’s money.”

“It may be time to change tax policy,” Mr. Tierney added.

The Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax policy, recently asked the nation’s 136 richest colleges and universities to provide a long list of financial data for the past 10 years, to show how they have set tuition and used their endowments.

Some educators, too, say universities may be too timid in their spending.

Lawrence H. Summers, the former president of Harvard, recalls that when he returned to the university as president in 2001 after being away for a decade, part of that as secretary of the Treasury, he was struck by the $14 billion growth in the endowment, and thought some of the money should be used “for priorities of transcendent importance.”

He allocated money for a new Allston campus, expanded financial aid for low- and middle-income students, and created a new school of engineering and applied sciences. Harvard’s endowment spending rate in several of those years was 4.8 to 5.2 percent, higher than many of its peers.

Dr. Summers said that when investment returns were particularly high he believed spending at wealthier universities should go higher, too. “There is a temptation to go for what is comfortable,” he said, “but this would be a mistake. The universities have matchless resources that demand that they seize the moment.”

Princeton too has begun to spend more of its endowment returns for expansion, financial aid and research. Shirley M. Tilghman, Princeton’s president, said the trustees decided to expand the student body in 2001, after the endowment had undergone a few years of “extraordinary growth,” because they felt “that a university that had as many resources as we did should educate as many students as it could without losing its character.”

But Dr. Tilghman said universities had to keep the balance right. “We are all forgetting that we have been through a 30-year period of a sort never been seen in this country, in terms of the creation of wealth and in terms of prosperity,” she said. “If we were to begin to spend more in the belief that there will be another 30 years like the last 30 years, that would be irresponsible.”

Donors like Allan Demaree agree: “We want make sure the people who come after us have the same advantages we did.”

    Endowments Widen a Higher Education Gap, NYT, 4.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/04/education/04endowment.html






College endowments soaring


24 January 2008
USA Today
By Mary Beth Marklein


The number of colleges and universities boasting endowments of $1 billion or more climbed by 14 last year to a record 76, nearly doubling the number of such schools five years ago. And as tuition increases continue to outpace inflation, that's prompting some critics to step up their pressure on colleges to share more of their wealth.

College endowments averaged a 17.2% rate of return last year over the previous year, and the billion-dollar-plus schools posted the best returns of all, says a report released today by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, a non-profit group, and TIAA-CREF, an asset management firm.

Harvard's nearly $6 billion increase last year alone is larger than the endowments of all but 14 of the 785 schools that participated in the study. And the combined value of the top 10 colleges represents 35% of the $411 billion in total endowment assets reported.

Yet the percentage of the endowment those schools spend each year — for everything from hiring faculties to building maintenance to competing for research — is among the lowest. Schools with $500 million or more in assets reported spending an average 4.4%, vs. an overall average payout last year of 4.6%.

That irks Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has suggested colleges with endowments of $500 million and up be required to spend 5% each year, just as private foundations must, and use it "to help families and students afford college." Under that rule, 141 colleges this year would have been affected, up from 97 in 2003.

"I don't begrudge them their financial success," he said in a statement. "I just want to remind them that their money is tax-exempt. They're supposed to offer public benefit in return for (that) exemption."

Most colleges resist the idea of a mandatory payout. They say they need flexibility to manage spending based on their needs and an uncertain economy; plus, they don't have full control over how money is spent.

"Endowments are really a collection of gifts" that often have donor restrictions, says John Walda, president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers. "The purpose of most gifts is to ensure financial stability for our institutions and to make sure that they are around for centuries to come."

A growing number of colleges, including Harvard last month and Dartmouth, Bowdoin and Colby in the past week, credit strong endowment returns with allowing them to eliminate loans from their financial aid packages. Such initiatives are "an important first step," says James Boyle, president of College Parents of America. But he and others say many schools could charge no tuition and still have plenty to spare.

Lynne Munson, a researcher who has testified before Congress on the subject, says many parents "are perplexed at why tuition continues to go up … while (colleges) sit on billion-dollar-plus endowments."

College endowments soaring, UT, 24.1.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-01-24-endowments-college_N.htm




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