Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bill introduced to reshape higher education in New Jersey

Gov. Christie lent guarded support to a bill introduced by Democratic legislative leaders Monday that would dramatically reshape higher education in New Jersey by drawing Rutgers-Camden closer to Rowan University and by breaking up the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

The legislation, introduced by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), would establish a board to govern Rutgers-Camden and Rowan and sever many of Rutgers-Camden's administrative links to the larger university.

The bill is not exactly along the lines of Christie's January proposal, but he called it "a critical and positive step," adding that he "looks forward to working together to achieve this reorganization by June 30."

The Republican governor's plan, especially his proposal to merge Rutgers-Camden into Rowan, has stirred months of protests from Rutgers students, alumni, and officials, and led to closed-door negotiations among political leaders on a possible compromise.

The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and Joseph F. Vitale (D., Middlesex). Among its highlights:

All UMDNJ's assets in Newark and New Brunswick, except University Hospital, would be moved to Rutgers. University Hospital, in Newark, would become independent. UMDNJ, a sprawling network of eight campuses, employs 14,000 people across the state.

Rutgers-Camden would be "granted autonomy" and operate under a seven-member board of trustees. The school would receive funding directly from the state.

Rowan would be designated a research institution, ensuring greater state funding.

The joint Rowan/Rutgers-Camden board would be able to "approve or disapprove" decisions by each school's board of trustees.

That Rutgers-Camden would have "autonomy" but exist under a complex governance structure in which it is subject to oversight by a joint board overseeing it and Rowan raised suspicions among many Rutgers faculty.

"This a merger with Rowan in everything but name," said Andrew Shankman, a history professor at Rutgers-Camden. "It seems we've been completely cut off from Rutgers, despite the fact we would somehow retain the name of Rutgers."

In a statement, Sweeney said: "No one will get everything they want, but everyone will get something they want."

Rutgers-Camden chancellor Wendell Pritchett, who had staunchly opposed the merger at a campus meeting earlier this year, issued a statement that "I am deeply gratified that Senate President Sweeney recognizes the importance of Rutgers-Camden and wants to see us continue to flourish." He added: "I look forward to working with legislative leaders to refine this proposal."

The legislation comes at a critical juncture in the governor's efforts, backed by key legislative leaders, to remake the state's university system.

It comes less than 30 days from the legislature's vote on next year's budget, which Christie has set as a deadline for the university plan, which he introduced saying it would boost the universities' national competitiveness.

It is also only days ahead of votes scheduled for Wednesday by Rutgers' current boards of trustees and governors on a statement opposing any drastic restructuring of the university.

Norcross, a brother of powerful Democratic leader George E. Norcross III, has opposed Christie's plan to merge Rutgers-Camden into Rowan. But he said Monday that his legislation avoided the pitfalls of that plan.

In a statement Monday, Donald Norcross said: "We have worked very hard over the last several weeks to listen to all sides of the debate and incorporate their ideas into this plan. Real change will be achieved only through respectful collaboration."

For many in the political establishment, the legislation represented a starting point.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who last week helped draft a contentious list of demands for higher education in Newark, was among legislators who, while praising Sweeney's efforts, withheld endorsing his proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) said: "This is not some idea that is not allowed to be questioned. It is another step in the legislative process."

Questions of cost continue to hang over the proposal. The cost of a similar restructuring proposed under former Gov. Jim McGreevey was estimated at $1.3 billion.

The legislation follows months of behind-the-scenes negotiations involving members of Rutgers' board of governors and some of the state's top political figures, including Sweeney, George Norcross, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

The bill also would grant Rutgers-Newark its own board of governors, with authority to "propose" capital projects and budgets to the larger university.

In an interview, George Norcross, a managing partner in The Inquirer's parent company and a supporter of Christie's plan, said the legislation would "create a new research university of over 20,000 students with a medical school, a law school, an engineering school, and two great universities in Rowan and Rutgers-Camden."

The question now is whether Rutgers' boards of trustees and governors will support the legislation when they meet Wednesday. According to the university, Rutgers, unlike other state universities, has the power to block legislative decisions in regard to its campuses.

Rutgers president Richard McCormick said in a statement that "overall the bill appears to advance the goals of enhancing medical education across the state, boosting Rutgers' standing among its peer institutions."

Whether the university's boards will go along was unclear. Last month, the trustees issued a statement opposing any deal that gave up Rutgers-Camden.

Jeanne Fox, a Rutgers trustee and vocal opponent of the Rowan merger, said the legislation was a setback.

"It seems clear that we need to work out a compromise, and this isn't a compromise," said Fox, chairwoman of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. "I'm hopeful we'll be able to work one out, but I thought it would be sooner rather than later."

Spokesmen for UMDNJ and Rowan declined to comment, saying officials were still reviewing the bill.


Private Muslim schools told to promote British values

Private Islamic schools face being required to promote “British values” as part of a new Government drive to combat extremism, it emerged today.

For the first time, they will be forced to meet new rules introduced to ensure schools respect the criminal and civil law, present political issues in a balanced way and promote tolerance of other faiths.

The change – applying to all independent schools in England – comes amid concerns that the curriculum in some schools may encourage the development of radical beliefs.

In a report, the Department for Education said reports from a range of sources suggest that “extremism may be more of a problem within some independent schools rather than state-funded schools”.

Although the duty applies to all fee-paying schools, particular concerns have been raised in the past over more than 100 private Muslim schools.

A report by the think-tank Civitas in 2009 found anti-Western views promoted on some school webites. A separate study by Ofsted, the education watchdog, revealed that one-in-five independent faith schools were failing to teach children about other religions.

The DfE is now proposing changes to official regulations for independent schools in England that toughen up requirements surrounding the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils.

A consultation document into the plans suggests that schools should “enable pupils to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law”, while providing children with a “broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England”.

Schools will also be expected to "preclude the promotion of partisan political views" and ensure that children “respect fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.

The new regulations represent a tightening of existing rules, which merely require independent schools to respect "the law", encourage pupils to contribute towards community life and tolerate different cultures. It will be used by Ofsted and other official watchdogs during inspections of independent schools.

The report – which is open to consultation until Tuesday – said the changes would “help ensure that extremism, intolerance and teaching that undermines democracy and the rule of law are challenged within independent schools”.

“Inspectorates will in future be better able to identify and report on extremism if these changes are made,” it added.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are consulting on whether we need to add additional requirements for independent schools to bring them into line with maintained schools.

“These requirements include the promoting of fundamental British values, respecting the civil and criminal law and presenting political issues in a balanced way.”



Australia:  If they're happy and they know it . . .  "Positive education"

CRITICS deride it as "happyology", but positive education is taking hold from the gleaming halls of Geelong Grammar to the classrooms of hardscrabble public schools across the country.

The brainchild of an American psychologist, positive education aims to help students cultivate positive emotions and character traits, improving their behaviour and fighting depression before it sinks in.

Teachers faced with the challenge of teaching adolescents in the 21st century have embraced it with fervour, led by the elite Geelong Grammar and its team of specially trained staff.

"If our investment saves one kid from committing suicide in 10 years' time it's worth every single penny," said vice-principal Charlie Scudamore.

"This is not about kids walking around with a smile on their face, ignoring critical human emotion.

"It's about a flourishing person who is in control of their emotion, who can deal with adversity, knows that adversity is going to hit them and there will be sad times and bad times, but they can bounce back from that."
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Geelong Grammar has pioneered the spread of positive education over the past four years, incorporating it across the whole school as well as running specific Year 7 and 10 classes and seeking donations from parents to run courses on the concept for other school teachers.

Nathan Chisholm, principal of Altona College in Melbourne's western suburbs, said the adoption of positive psychology had produced a remarkable change in student and staff attitudes at his battling public school.

"We have shifted the culture from one of welfare to one of wellbeing, and that's a really important thing," Mr Chisholm said.

South Australia has appointed positive psychology founder Martin Seligman as its latest thinker in residence, using a pilot program in the Adelaide Hills to help determine whether rollout of positive psychology should occur across the state system.

While the growing number of schools involved, and support from prominent psychologists, has lent weight to positive education, Sydney psychologist Vera Auerbach warned it would not help children with serious mental health issues.

"I think it's flavour of the month; I think it's like a fad," she said. "If you're a well-adjusted individual and you've got no issues in life, positive psychology might help by just putting something on top of it.

"If you are deeply depressed and suicidal, if your boyfriend has broken up with you and you don't want to live any more, then I don't think this positive-psychology stuff works at all."


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