Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 24, 2019

The University of Oklahoma is facing another report of a person using blackface on campus. Late last week, two students (who have since withdrawn) made a video featuring blackface and the N-word. The incident has left many on campus furious over what they see as toleration of racism. On Wednesday, students reported seeing someone walking on campus in blackface, and video circulated of this person.

The university posted this statement: "An individual has been observed walking on and near campus in blackface. The individual has not been located by OUPD and we have no information on whether he is a student. OUPD is working to ensure all on campus are safe."

January 24, 2019

The University of Texas at San Antonio again suspended a professor of biology who made headlines last term for calling the police on a student who was resting her feet on a chair in class. The professor, Anita Moss, is white, while the student she complained about is black, leading some on campus to believe that the incident was racially motivated. A university investigation determined that race was not a factor in Moss’s November police call, but that she overreacted. San Antonio suspended Moss from teaching for the rest of last semester and ordered her to complete classroom management training.

Moss returned to the classroom this month but has since been suspended. A university spokesperson declined comment as to why, but MySanAntonio.com reported that some faculty members complained about Moss’s current syllabus, which warned against "placing your legs or feet on the classroom furniture," “reclining in class” and other “disrespectful behavior.” Moss did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

January 24, 2019

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this week announced a major new grant program in postsecondary education. To advance its goal of improved student success -- particularly for low-income and first-generation students, students of color, and working adults -- the foundation said it is seeking up to 10 "intermediaries for scale" that can work intensively with colleges and universities over a multiyear period.

The selected organizations, or groups of organizations, will provide connections and guidance to colleges and universities to support them "through the process of comprehensive change" related to student success and completion.

"Our partners’ work has demonstrated that there are innovations that can significantly improve student outcomes, like strengthening advising, tapping the power of digital learning and redesigning remedial education," the foundation said in a written statement.

A growing number of colleges recognize the need to transform themselves to be more student centered, the foundation said. But they will need partners to help get there. The foundation also said this grant will increase substantially the number of colleges it works with directly.

"We liken institutional transformation to a home remodel. People take on the task (and yes, headaches) of remodeling for lots of reasons, but mainly to have their homes better fit the way they live -- more space for a growing family or more flexible space when kids leave home," Patrick Methvin, director of postsecondary success in the foundation's U.S. program, said in a written statement. "In much the same way, colleges and universities are facing the need to remodel themselves to better serve today’s students, a growing number of whom need help navigating a system that was not originally designed for them."

The analogy isn't perfect, Methvin said. Higher education remodeling is more complex and consequential. But the common element is better and more functional design, he said.

"Too many students are missing out on the opportunity to increase their economic and social mobility through higher education not because they aren’t college ready, but because colleges aren’t ready for them," said Methvin.

January 24, 2019

David Soo, who since 2011 has been a prominent advocate for the role the federal government can play in spurring innovation in higher education, is leaving the U.S. Education Department to become chief of staff at Jobs for the Future.

Soo, a senior policy adviser under former Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell and in the department's Office of Educational Technology during the Trump administration, played a key role in federal efforts to stimulate experimentation with technology and other forms of innovation, including the EQUIP Program, the First in the World Program and, more recently, the Higher Ed Ecosystem Challenge. Soo was a visible presence at many gatherings of higher education technology officials and campus officials focused on student success.

In his new role as chief of staff to Maria Flynn, president of Jobs for the Future, Soo will help the nonprofit -- which describes itself as accelerating "the alignment and transformation of the American workforce and education systems to ensure access to economic advancement for all" -- design and lead projects, existing and new.

January 24, 2019

Michigan State University will pay the legal bills for its former president’s criminal defense, according to a new report that breaks down millions of dollars in charges the institution has incurred because of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

A dozen law firms have billed the university $19.37 million since December 2016, the Lansing State Journal reported. They sent invoices to the university totaling nearly 29,000 hours. Charges are for work on outside investigations and lawsuits, including wrangling with insurance carriers.

Michigan State is paying for the criminal defense of both former president Lou Anna Simon and former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages. Both have been charged with lying to police about when they knew of reports about Nassar, who was convicted about a year ago of sexually assaulting girls and women while he was a team doctor at Michigan State and with the U.S. gymnastics team.

The university is also paying for half of the criminal defense of former dean William Strampel. He faces four charges, two of which are related to his role overseeing Nassar at the university.

In total, the Nassar scandal’s financial cost to Michigan State was more than $523 million through mid-November. That tally includes a $500 million settlement with victims and a fund set up for some victims to receive counseling.

January 24, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Jennifer Pomeranz, assistant professor of public health policy and management at New York University, discusses why state laws can be important for our health. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 23, 2019

The two women who made a video featuring blackface and the N-word -- a video that angered many at the University of Oklahoma -- issued apologies that were released by the university Tuesday.

In the apologies, the two women, who have voluntarily left the university, said that they did not intend to cause the hurt that the video created at Oklahoma. "My intent was not to hurt, diminish or degrade anyone," said one of the notes. Both former students said that they regretted their actions.

Hundreds of students and others packed a ballroom at the university Tuesday to speak out against racism. Many charged that the university was not doing enough to prevent incidents like the video, which they said should not be viewed as an isolated incident.

January 23, 2019

The University of Utah today announced the creation of an experimental program to offer some students the option of an income-share agreement. So-called ISAs, which tap portions of postgraduate income to reduce college tuition fees, have generated support from policy makers and others as a promising way to help pay for college. Critics, however, call the agreements new forms of potentially problematic private loans.

Utah appears to be the second large public university to offer an ISA, having followed Purdue University's lead. A small but growing number of private colleges also offer the agreements.

The new program at Utah, dubbed Invest in U, is open to students in 18 selected majors who are within one year of graduating, the university said. Eligible students may receive up to $10,000 each semester (fall, spring and summer) under the agreement. In exchange, students will pay 2.85 percent of their annual income after graduation for three to 10 years, depending on their major and the amount they received. Payments may be paused for students pursuing graduate degrees or who are volunteering or working but earning less than $20,000 a year.

January 23, 2019

Florida governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday named a top deputy of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to a seat on Florida’s Supreme Court.

Carlos Muñiz had served as general counsel of the U.S. Department of Education since October 2017. A onetime deputy attorney general under former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Muñiz had more recently served as chief of staff to former state attorney general Pam Bondi.

During Muñiz's Senate confirmation hearing in September 2017, Democratic lawmakers questioned why, during his tenure, Bondi didn't investigate Trump University, the controversial real estate investment seminar owned by Donald Trump. Bondi had gotten a campaign donation from then candidate Trump before declining to pursue the investigation. Her office insisted there was no connection between the donation and her decision. A federal judge in 2017 approved a $25 million settlement between Trump and former students of the program.

Prior to working for DeVos, Muñiz had also done consulting and legal work on behalf of a for-profit college and both Florida State University and the University of Florida in their handling of high-profile sexual assault cases, Politico reported.

He had previously clerked for Judge José A. Cabranes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Judge Thomas A. Flannery of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. But he is the first state high court appointee in decades not to work as a judge. DeSantis noted that Tuesday but praised Muñiz's “intellectual firepower,” the Miami Herald reported.

DeVos tweeted congratulations on Tuesday, saying Muñiz will be “a steady hand for justice in Florida.” DeVos said she’ll “sorely miss Carlos’s unassuming yet convicted leadership in our ranks.”

She said Muñiz “has been a reliable friend of America’s students by implementing the law as it is written & providing trusted, principled counsel for @usedgov.”

January 23, 2019

George Mason University has received a fleet of 25 robots that can deliver food to students on campus.

Starship Technologies, the company that created the machines, said that they can drop off Blaze Pizza, Starbucks and Dunkin’, among other meals, to students within minutes at $1.99 per delivery.

Most deliveries will take about 15 minutes and the robots can haul about 20 pounds, or the weight of three shopping bags full of food, according to the company. The service works with students’ meal plans.

Students download an app to their cellphones or other mobile devices and then drop a pin on a map where they want their delivery sent. Once the robot arrives, students will be alerted and they can unlock the robot with their app.

The Washington Post reported that the robots rely on artificial intelligence, ultrasonic sensors and nine cameras to navigate the campus grounds.

“We’re excited that our students, faculty and staff get to be at the forefront of this pioneering campus food delivery service,” Mark Kraner, executive director for campus retail operations at George Mason, said in a statement. “This will enhance life for everyone at the university, and that’s something we’re continuously looking to build upon. Our commitment to providing an optimal campus experience is one of the things that distinguishes George Mason University as a place where everyone can thrive.”

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