Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 18, 2018

Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, said Monday that Congress shouldn’t attempt to attach federal funding to a college’s protection of free speech rights on campus.

Higher ed leaders should instead promote campus speech themselves by taking steps like refusing the heckler’s veto and adopting the Chicago principles of freedom of expression, Alexander said.

“It doesn’t work,” he said of a potential federal mandate.

Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, shared those thoughts in an exchange with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as part of a Justice Department forum on free speech in higher education, an issue that has increasingly preoccupied Trump administration officials.

President Trump himself warned last year that the federal government could withdraw federal funds from the University of California, Berkeley, after leftist and antifascist protesters blocked right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus amid sometimes violent protests.

Alexander, like many fellow conservatives, claimed both that college students today are too coddled and that college administrators have caved too easily to the heckler’s veto, where students use protests or other tactics to block appearances by controversial speakers. And he argued that promoting underrepresented points of view -- especially conservative opinions -- should be as important to colleges as promoting a diversity of student backgrounds on campus.

“Let’s recognize that campuses need underrepresented points of view as much as colleges need underrepresented students. That universities should work just as hard to have underrepresented points of view -- which are today, in many cases, conservative points of view -- on the campus,” he said.

Colleges themselves should be organizing forums of their own to discuss how to promote campus free speech and how campus leaders should handle incidents like student protest, he said.

September 18, 2018

The Montana Supreme Court sided with Montana State University in a five-year-old case brought by a student who said a professor harassed and raped her, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. The ruling, issued last week, overturned a lower court judge’s decision that Montana State was negligent in its employment of Shuichi Komiyama, a former professor of music there. Five of seven judges on the Supreme Court said that a district court judge erred in ruling that the university’s destruction of some email evidence -- intentional or not -- meant that the student should win her case without it going to trial, according to the Chronicle. The case was ordered back to district court.

Komiyama’s department reportedly counseled him for bullying in 2009 and was repeatedly warned about allegations of his past misconduct involving students, including the fact that the Billings School District had banned him from its campuses after he was accused of sexting underage students. The student plaintiff in the case reported Komiyama for misconduct in 2011, and he was barred from campus. Montana State at one point offered not to tell future employers about the investigation if Komiyama resigned, but case became public anyway. Komiyama eventually resigned.

September 18, 2018

A federal court last week blocked the Education Department's plans to cancel contracts with debt collection firms handling defaulted student loans.

The decision to drop the debt collectors was part of a broader overhaul of loan servicing pursued by the Office of Federal Student Aid. But Judge Thomas Wheeler of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims found that the department's justification for canceling the contracts was "slipshod" and that its alternative -- a plan to offer more enhanced servicing to borrowers before they default -- included scant details.

The department had begun to notify debt collectors earlier this summer that it would pull and reassign existing defaulted student loan accounts. But it quietly postponed those plans after separate congressional spending bills included language directing the department to extend contractors with debt collection firms.

The judge's decision means the debt collectors will continue to play a part in loan servicing as the department moves forward with plans for its Next Gen loan servicing system.

September 18, 2018

The Social Science Research Council has called on researchers, research funders, the U.S. government and the private sector to forge new partnerships to address the challenges facing social science research.

In a report published Monday, the SSRC said that social science research faces serious threats from “dwindling federal funding” and “widespread skepticism about data.” Without action, the report suggests that social science might fail in its central objective -- to improve human lives.

The 52-page report, which was authored by a special SSRC task force over 18 months, includes recommendations such as creating a central database for public and private social data and forging new public-private funding relationships that could counter recent declines in federal research funding.

September 18, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Jamie Maguire, assistant professor of neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine, explores a treatment that could help new mothers with postpartum depression. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 17, 2018

After the SAT make-up test was given this weekend, reports again circulated on social media that the make-up test included many questions from an SAT widely available in Asia. An educator who works in China told Inside Higher Ed that his students reported to him about the use of these "recycled" questions, and that one student told him she had taken a practice test with the questions the day before the exam. The educator asked not to be identified because he said he did not want to anger the College Board, which has been criticized for using old test questions even though the questions circulate in Asia. The last regular SAT was an example of a test in which many reported seeing questions that had been used before and that were widely available at test-prep centers in China and Korea.

A spokesman for the College Board said via email to Inside Higher Ed: "Theft of undisclosed forms continues, and we cannot comment publicly on form usage. We are making progress in both combatting theft and cheating, and in developing more items and test forms than ever before."

September 17, 2018

With professional associations under pressure to do more to fight misconduct by their members, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced Saturday that its governing council had approved a fellow revocation policy. The policy, which takes effect Oct. 15, outlines a process by which the association may consider and act on revoking the status of an elected fellow "in cases of proven scientific misconduct, serious breaches of professional ethics, or when the fellow in the view of AAAS no longer merits the status of fellow." That includes sexual harassment.

Margaret Hamburg, association president and chair of its council, said in a statement that harassment "has no place in science" and "we must do more as a scientific community to create a respectful and supportive environment for our colleagues and students." Hamburg added, "We need effective and responsive policies in academic departments and institutions, scientific societies, and government agencies that define expectations of behavior and provide clear reporting processes, as well as consequences for violations."

September 17, 2018

Stanford University has announced that it is changing the names of two buildings that currently honor Junípero Serra (right), an 18th-century Roman Catholic priest who created missions throughout California. While Serra is considered a hero by many and was declared a saint by Pope Francis in 2015, many Native Americans contend that Serra worked to destroy the cultures and beliefs of those who lived in California before the missionaries arrived. In addition, the university said that it will seek approval from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service to rename Serra Mall (below), the pedestrian and bicycle mall at the front of the Stanford campus that serves as the university's official address, as "Jane Stanford Way," to honor one of the co-founders of the university. The university will not seek to rename Serra Street on its campus.

A statement from the university cited several reasons for the decisions. "Serra's establishment of the mission system is a central part of California history, and his life's work led to his canonization by the Roman Catholic Church in 2015," the statement said. "At the same time, the historical record confirms that the mission system inflicted great harm and violence on Native Americans, and Stanford has several features named for Serra even though he played no direct role in the university's history."

September 17, 2018

The University of Central Florida (UCF) chief financial officer and vice president for administration and finance, Bill Merck, stepped down Thursday after an auditor revealed the university had misused $38 million in state funds to construct the newly-opened Trevor Colbourn Hall, Orlando Weekly reported.

In a statement to the UCF campus, Dale Whittaker, university president, said that the university paid back the $38 million to the state by tapping into the university's auxiliary and concession funds. The Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, is concerned that the misstep could have consequences for the system's budget process.

"We're going to have a more difficult time, as we should, with the Legislature, making sure we know what the hell we're doing here and we're on top of things," Ned Lautenbach, board chairman, told the Orlando Weekly. "I am personally very disappointed in this."

The university will undergo an external investigation into the "process, procedures and personnel concerning how we finance facilities," Whittaker wrote. Whittaker appointed Misty Shepherd, associate vice president and CFO at the UCF Foundation, as interim vice president for administration and finance and Kathy Mitchell, associate director of University Audit, to serve as interim CFO.

September 17, 2018

A new report from New America looks at Broward College's successful effort to embed industry certifications into a wide number of degree programs, an approach the think tank says could be a model for other colleges to emulate.

Certifications can pay off in the labor market. But their cost -- typically more than $100 -- often is a barrier for low-income students. And while many colleges embed some certifications into degree programs, New America said these efforts tend to be limited in nature and benefit relatively few students.

Broward, a Florida community college that also offers four-year degrees, has been helped by a state program that reimburses the cost of certification exams for in-demand occupations. But the college stands out, New America found, with 1,349 eligible certifications earned by students last year.

"In contrast to other colleges we interviewed, integrating certifications into degree program is a college-wide priority at Broward, closely tied with other efforts to ensure student success such as guided pathways and career coaching," according to the report. "Certification attainment is measured, rewarded and actively promoted to students, employers and internal college stakeholders."


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