Two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sent a letter last month warning lawyers at about 75 universities that "few, if any, college and university diversity admissions programs" would meet the test set by the Supreme Court in its ruling in Fisher v. Texas last June on affirmative action. The authors of the letter, Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow, are in a clear minority on the panel: they are an independent and Republican, respectively, while the other four current members are all Democrats, and President Obama has two remaining spots to fill.
The views they express in the letter -- which they made clear were delivered in their "capacity as individual commissioners" -- are consistent with what they have often said before in criticizing colleges' consideration of race in admissions, arguing both that it is illegal and that racial preferences "hurt, rather than help, their intended beneficiaries."
College officials questioned the approach taken by the letter writers. “A letter on Civil Rights Commission stationery from a couple members sharing their personal legal interpretation of the Fisher decision does nothing to help campuses deal with these thorny issues but it can easily confuse and mislead those officials who receive it about the Commission’s views," Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said via email.
The civil rights commission had a discussion more than two years ago over whether it was appropriate for individual members of the panel to send correspondence on commission letterhead. The panel's members concluded that it was permitted as long as the letter writers made it clear they were not speaking on behalf of the panel.
The U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether Florida's Bright Futures scholarship program illegally discriminates against black and Latino students, The Miami Herald reported. The state scholarship program is based in part on SAT or ACT scores, and state lawmakers recently raised those score requirements. While legislators say that the standards are based on quality, critics note that, on average, black and Latino students' scores lag those of white and Asian students. OCR officials declined to discuss specifics, but said that the agency is “investigating allegations that the state of Florida utilizes criteria for determining eligibility for college scholarships that have the effect of discriminating against Latino and African-American students on the basis of national origin and race.”
The board of the College of Charleston on Saturday named Glenn McConnell, a career politician currently serving as lieutenant governor, as the college's next president. The choice is a controversial one. Many faculty and students have questioned McConnell's lack of a background working in academe. In his legislative career, he was a strong supporter of flying the Confederate flag on state grounds, and photos of him posing as a Confederate general in war re-enactments (with one photo in particular showing him with people playing the part of black slaves) have offended many black people in the state. The NAACP in the state urged that the board pick someone other than McConnell. He has pledged to build legislative support for the college and, in particular, its economic development role. But many at the college fear that at a time that some legislators want to turn the college into a research university, McConnell will not defend its current mission. The college has a strong reputation as a liberal arts institution.
Authorities who have been investigating the alleged racial harassment of a student at Grand Valley State University now believe that the alleged victim is the one who wrote slurs and racist images on a whiteboard, MLive.com reported. The student has been referred to campus officials for violating the code of conduct. A statement from the campus police chief says that the false report “had a disruptive impact on the community.”
The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa has for much of this academic year debated the segregation of much of its Greek system, although an all-white sorority system -- following nationwide attention -- pledged several black women. But controversy has returned with the decision of student government leaders not to vote on a resolution endorsing the idea that all Greek houses should be integrated. AL.com reported that student government leaders said that they were just following procedure in referring the resolution to a committee (in which it will die this academic year because the end of the term is approaching). But supporters of the resolution said that some student government leaders didn't want to endorse the resolution or be public in opposing it.
A leader of the Parti Québécois, which is the governing party in Quebec but has just started a tough re-election campaign, has proposed that college and university students be barred from wearing burkas, Maclean's reported. Bernard Drainville, the official who proposed the idea, is also behind the proposed "values charter" that would bar public employees (including those in higher education) from wearing any religious attire. In proposing the burka ban, he said he was concerned that students in burkas attend classes at a number of universities in the province.
The black student who authorities say was the victim of months of racial harassment by his suitemates at San Jose State University has filed a $5 million claim against the institution, The San Jose Mercury News reported. The claim says that a resident adviser was aware of the situation and didn't intervene as needed. This contrasts with the university's commissioned investigation, which found that there was no knowledge of the harassment by those who could have stopped it.
A statement from the university said that San Jose State officials believe the claim was filed with the wrong state agency for such matters, and that the university does not comment on such claims.
A dean's list student at Hannibal-LaGrange University who withdrew due to illness in October says he was blocked from returning because he is gay, the Associated Press reported. During the time he was away from the university, he came out on Facebook, and he said that university officials explained their refusal to re-enroll him by pointing him to a morals clause at the Baptist institution that describes homosexuality as a "misuse of God's gift." The student noted that others who violate rules related to sex are permitted to stay enrolled. He said he was told that, to return, he would have to renounce homosexuality. The university declined to comment.
The University of California on Wednesday released a "climate" report in which it analyzed survey results from students and employees across the university system. The results suggested that most people at the university feel comfortable, but that a significant minority do not. Twenty-four percent of respondents (breakdowns were not provided for different groups) reported that they "had personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct" at a university campus. And 9 percent said "that this conduct interfered with their ability to work or learn." Three percent reported that they had experienced unwanted sexual conduct at the university.
Among students, 69 percent of undergraduates and 78 percent of graduate students were satisfied with their academic experience. And 75 percent of undergraduates, 85 percent of graduate students, and 67 percent of postdocs said that they "felt valued by faculty in the classroom."