Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 24, 2018

National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins said Thursday that the agency is investigating multiple research institutions where researchers failed to disclose improper support from foreign governments.

In a letter to grant recipient institutions, Collins said foreign entities had mounted “systematic programs” to influence NIH research. The agency’s concerns include the sharing of information on grant applications with foreign entities as well as failures to disclose financial support from foreign governments.

Collins also spoke about those research issues at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees the agency.

NIH is responding by working with other government agencies and professional organizations to push for better reporting on sources of research support and improve intellectual property.

The letter also encouraged research institutions to reach out to the FBI about information involving grant applications or awards.

August 24, 2018

The Senate on Thursday approved an $857 billion spending bill covering education, health care and defense that includes new funding for Pell Grants and campus-based research.

The bill increases the maximum value of the Pell Grant to $6,195. The National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, get a $2 billion increase, for a total of $39.1 billion in fiscal year 2019.

The legislation also includes $350 million to fund an eligibility fix for borrowers seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Lawmakers now have a little over a week to reconcile the Senate legislation with numbers in a separate House spending bill.

August 24, 2018

The U.S. Department of Education is being sued for "illegally" delaying state authorization rules designed to help college students determine in which online university to enroll.

Two union groups, the National Education Association and the California Teachers Association, allege that the department did not follow the correct process to implement the delay.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It challenges the department’s delay of requirements for online universities' "legal obligation to notify students that the programs in which they’re enrolled or plan to enroll in may fail to meet state licensing standards or may face adverse actions from the state or accreditor."

The rules were due to go into effect on July 1 of this year but have been delayed until July 2020.

In a news release, the unions described the department’s decision to delay the rules as “the latest brazen attack on student rights” in the name of deregulation.

Whether or not the department met the July 1 deadline to officially delay the rules has also been called into question. In a previous statement sent to Inside Higher Ed, the department denied that it missed the July 1 deadline and noted that documents outlining the delay were available for public inspection (but not officially published in the Federal Register) on June 29.

Jared Bass, senior counsel for education and strategy for New America's education policy program, said that "given how the department mishandled the delay, a lawsuit was expected." He added that "all of this could have really been avoided" if the department had issued guidance on how to implement the rules, as several university groups had requested.

August 24, 2018

Authorities in Michigan have charged a onetime Michigan State University gymnastics coach with lying to police about what she knew about sexual misconduct allegations against Larry Nassar, the doctor who pleaded guilty to assaulting hundreds of women.

The charges against Kathie Klages could carry a total prison sentence of up to six years.

The Michigan attorney general's office on Thursday charged Klages with two counts of lying to a peace officer, one a felony and the other a misdemeanor, the Lansing State Journal reported.

Klages retired last year, one day after Michigan State suspended her and hours after a former athlete said in court filings that Klages had, 20 years earlier, discouraged her from complaining about Nassar, warning of serious repercussions for herself and Nassar.

Michigan State last May reached a $500 million settlement with survivors of Nassar’s abuse, months after the former university and U.S. gymnastics team doctor pleaded guilty. He is serving several lengthy prison sentences that basically amount to life in prison.

August 24, 2018

Michigan has diverted a total of $4.5 billion from K-12 schools to community colleges and universities since 2010 as policy makers routed money from a fund set up under the state Constitution, according to a new report released Thursday casting a critical eye on the way the state balanced spending on K-12, higher education and tax cuts.

In question is spending from the School Aid Fund, which was first established under an amendment to the state Constitution in 1955. The Constitution says it will be used for aid to “school districts, higher education, and school employees’ retirement systems, as provided by law.”

But the fund had not been used for postsecondary education until the 2010 fiscal year, says the report, which is from the Michigan League for Public Policy, a group that aims to promote racial equity, economic security, health and well-being. In that first year money was drawn from the fund for higher ed, it was appropriated as a loan to be paid back, the report says -- although it ultimately never was repaid.

Then in the 2012 fiscal year, Governor Rick Snyder’s first budget used money from the School Aid Fund to replace general fund money for universities and community colleges, according to the report. That practice has continued, setting up a “zero-sum game in which money that has traditionally supported K-12 is used for postsecondary education instead, with the savings going to the General Fund to be used for non-educational purposes -- including tax cuts.”

Three out of the last five budgets funded community colleges entirely from the School Aid Fund. For the 2019 fiscal year, lawmakers moved $908.3 million from K-12 to postsecondary education, the report says.

“Rather than make difficult decisions regarding how to restore the lost state revenues, elected leaders year after year have resorted to taking School Aid Fund dollars from K-12 education, using it to fund postsecondary education, and subtracting a roughly equal amount of postsecondary education funding and putting it back into the General Fund to help make up for shortfalls created by tax cuts,” the report says. “Following the money leads to only one conclusion: the state is paying for tax cuts with money taken from its K-12 students.”

Not everyone agreed with the criticisms. The practices outlined are permitted by the state Constitution, said James Hohman, director of fiscal policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank.

“Are they going to criticize rain for being wet next?” he said, according to Chalkbeat.

A state budget office spokesman told MLive that the Snyder administration has increased funding for K-12 education by $2.1 billion since 2011. “The budget pie is only so big,” and K-12 education has been a top funding priority, he said. But per-student funding has not kept up with the pace of inflation, MLive reported.

August 24, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Edward Shannon, a professor of literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey, discusses an interesting moment in comic book history connecting these historical figures. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

August 23, 2018

The University of Utah gave a teaching assistant “other assignments” after she warned students via her syllabus that bringing a concealed firearm to class would be restricted to a “3x3 taped square,” or a “Second Amendment zone” in the back of the classroom, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. “This zone also does not include a desk, because desks are reserved for students who respect the personal and psychological safety of their classmates and instructor,” the unnamed graduate student also wrote on the syllabus. Since the university “reserves the right to restrict elements of the First Amendment on campus to specifically sanctioned ‘free speech zones,’” she added, “I am reserving the right to restrict elements of the Second Amendment in my own classroom.” Students who have a concealed-carry firearm license may bring weapons to campus by law in Utah, among other states, but such legislation remains contentious. A university spokesperson said that the graduate student has apologized and received additional training.

August 23, 2018

Kentucky's education board has ended a requirement that schoolteachers earn a master's degree within 10 years of joining the teaching force, Kentucky.com reported. State officials said that they did not see value in the master's degree requirement, but teachers' organizations criticized the shift, saying that the old rule assured high quality for teachers.

August 23, 2018

South Carolina technical colleges received formal permission on Wednesday to offer bachelor's degrees in advanced manufacturing technology.

Governor Henry McMaster signed legislation approved earlier this summer by state lawmakers allowing Greenville Technical College and others in the state to offer the degrees.

“With one of the greatest technical college systems in the world, it makes perfect sense that we would give South Carolinians the opportunity to utilize those institutions of higher learning to contribute to one of the fastest-growing manufacturing industries in the country,” McMaster said in a news release. “I’m proud to have signed this bill into law and grateful for the impact it will have on our efforts to strengthen South Carolina’s workforce for generations to come.”

Greenville Technical College president Keith Miller said there was a demand for more highly skilled employees in the region from manufacturing companies such as Michelin, General Electric and Bosch Rexroth.

“With the signing of this legislation today, the game has changed in South Carolina, giving Greenville Technical College improved ability to meet the work-force needs of industry,” Miller said.

About 20 states allow two-year institutions to offer bachelor's degrees in a variety of subject areas.

August 23, 2018

Ohio State University has launched a new centralized office designed to handle complaints of sexual harassment and violence after the old iteration of the unit shut down in June.

The university closed down the Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit after first suspending it in February, following reports of mismanagement and allegations that staffers there were mistreating victims and not properly reporting assaults.

Ohio State is reworking how it handles complaints under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bans gender-based discrimination, including opening the new office. The workers there -- called intake coordinators -- will respond to reports of sexual harassment and misconduct and help those who report incidents to understand their options, coordinate interim measures, make referrals to other agencies and file reports to police or others if necessary.

These coordinators will report to the Title IX coordinator, Kellie Brennan.

A new website provides details of the office and the university’s Title IX procedures. In the fall, a new online course will begin, designed to give students, professors and staff members "tools to challenge and report inappropriate and harmful behavior when witnessed."

“The university will continue to focus on advancing our efforts in this vital area,” President Michael V. Drake said in a statement. “The members of our Buckeye community deserve nothing less.”

The announcement comes as the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigates sexual abuse allegations against a former Ohio State team doctor, Richard Strauss, who ended his life in 2005. The university announced its own investigation in April after reports of Strauss abusing students surfaced. Officials have since said they have received reports from male alumni who played 14 different sports.

The case has also made headlines because of the accusations that prominent GOP congressman Jim Jordan, formerly an assistant coach at Ohio State during Strauss’s tenure, knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it. Jordan has denied these allegations.

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