Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 16, 2018

Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, is seeking to break apart the department's budget office, Politico reported. The department recently removed at least two top budget officials and plans to decentralize its budget functions. Politico reported that the White House's Office of Management and Budget has opposed the plan. The department budget office has long held a substantial amount of power, a former department official said. It has had a strained relationship with DeVos, according to Politico, possibly in part because The Washington Post last year published the office's budget request before its official release.

March 16, 2018

The Interfraternity Council at the University of Kansas has halted the activities of its 24 fraternities amid allegations of hazing in the chapters.

The national branches of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Delta Upsilon fraternities earlier suspended the Kansas chapters after the university launched an investigation over hazing, and the university announced this week the fraternities’ self-imposed freeze on all fraternity activities.

“The Greek community makes important and valued contributions to our university,” Kansas chancellor Douglas A. Girod said in a statement. “Many students have a great experience in fraternity life, do the right things and engage in meaningful philanthropy, service and leadership. Even so, there are systemic problems related to student conduct within our IFC community that we must address. I commend IFC for taking ownership of these problems by self-imposing this freeze. The university stands ready to support and partner with student leaders to improve and enhance Greek life at KU.”

Only philanthropic and service events are allowed under the ban, which the council means to keep in place until around May, according to the university statement.

The council’s president, Daniel Lee, said in a statement that “there are significant and systemic conduct problems” that must be addressed with “honest introspection.”

Experts in Greek life have said that such bans are generally not effective at remedying long-term problems among fraternities and sororities.

March 16, 2018

The American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, United Autoworkers and Unite Here announced a joint initiative this week to get private institutions to bargain collectively with graduate student workers on their campuses. The National Labor Relations Board decided in 2016 that graduate student teaching and research assistants at private institutions are employees entitled to collective bargaining rights. But a number of private campus administrations have since refused to bargain with graduate students who have held successful union elections. In recent weeks, a group of those unions have withdrawn their petitions pending review by the NLRB, to avoid an unfavorable decision by the Trump-era board. 

As part of the new joint effort, graduate student workers at Boston College, Columbia University, Loyola University of Chicago, the University of Chicago and Yale University delivered letters to their administrations saying, “Despite clear votes in favor of unionization at your university, you have attempted to silence graduate workers by using the Trump NLRB to rig the system against them. Your refusal to bargain with a democratically chosen union both ignores the value of RAs and TAs as workers and contradicts the fundamental values for which your university stands. We urge you to join other university administrations by changing course and respecting the voice of graduate workers.”

AFT president Randi Weingarten said during a news conference that the unions plan to pool resources and expertise gained through decades of organizing graduate students on public campuses, which are governed by state laws on collective bargaining. As one example of the kind of strategies the unions will use, Weingarten cited Georgetown University’s recent decision to negotiate terms of a graduate student union election outside NLRB channels. Graduate students on that campus have since said such an election might provide graduate students more protection than one overseen by the NLRB, since its results could not be later overturned by the board of political appointees.

March 16, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of our Student Spotlight series, Sadie Witkowski, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of brain, behavior and cognition at Northwestern University, delves into whether our brains are still working while we doze. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 15, 2018

The Trump administration is considering restricting visas for Chinese citizens and tightening controls on the export of particular technologies with military and civilian uses as part of a push by President Trump to impose a package of tariffs and investment restrictions against China, Politico reported.

The article noted that some Trump administration officials have objected to the visa restrictions, which could affect Chinese students in the U.S., particularly those in graduate science and technology programs, and it is unclear if they will be included in the final package. Trump reportedly told advisers he wants the tariffs and restrictions as a response to alleged intellectual property theft by China.

March 15, 2018

United Lutheran Seminary on Wednesday fired its new president, Reverend Theresa Latini, amid continuing controversy over Latini's prior work for an organization that encouraged gay Christians to stop being gay. While Latini has renounced that group's work, many affiliated with the seminary have been questioning not only her appointment but why board members who knew about her background did not share that information widely.

A statement Wednesday by the board said in part, "Guided by our wish to act decisively and seeking God’s blessed guidance, the board voted to end Dr. Theresa F. Latini’s position as president of the United Lutheran Seminary. This decision was made based on the board’s concern that the ongoing controversy surrounding her naming as president made it extremely difficult to overcome the issues related to trust as the president of this institution. With the understanding that there is much work to be done in healing, and recognizing her significant value and gifts, the Board recognized that her ongoing tenure would present a significant obstacle to moving forward."

Latini said via email that she was being scapegoated, and that United Lutheran was facing challenges from its recent creation from merging two Lutheran seminaries. "I had been eager to help this newly-combined organization to flourish," she said. "However, given the longstanding, historic divisions between the predecessor schools and what I believe to have been a politically based whisper campaign against me and other members of the board, it became clear that certain parts of the organization were not going to stand behind me and that I could not be effective as president. I have been scapegoated by an historically divided institution resistant to unification, and have been given little chance to respond to the accusations against me."

March 15, 2018

Stephen Hawking, the noted physicist who died this week, worked for many years at the University of Cambridge, where he was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (a position once held by Isaac Newton), the Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and a member of the University's  Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, which he founded. The university posted to YouTube a short, moving video, narrated by Hawking's words.

March 15, 2018

Cornell University is declining a gift from prominent alumnus Richard Meier (left) after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against the architect Tuesday.

Meier, a Pritzker Prize winner whose famous designs include the Getty Center in Los Angeles, was having the chair of the architecture department at Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning named after him. Cornell announced the Richard Meier Chair of the Department of Architecture in January.

Then The New York Times published a story Tuesday detailing the accounts of five different women, four of whom worked for Meier. Two women said Meier exposed himself to them after they were sent to his apartment, a third said he grabbed her underwear through her dress at a company holiday party, a fourth said he asked her to take off her clothes at his apartment and a fifth -- who did not work for Meier -- said she had to escape his home in the 1980s after he pulled her onto a bed.

Meier told the Times he apologized “to anyone who was offended” by his behavior. He also said his recollection differed. He will take a six-month leave as founder and managing partner of his firm, Richard Meier & Partners.

In response to the allegations, Cornell declined Meier’s gift to name the architecture department chair and canceled an event planned for next week to mark the gift. It is also considering other actions addressing endowments for professorships and scholarships Meier previously gave to Cornell.

In 2010, Cornell established an assistant professorship in architecture for young faculty in Meier’s name. Cornell also gives his family credit for the Richard Meier Graduate Scholarship and the Ana Meier Graduate Scholarship for students in its graduate architecture program. Meier has given regularly to the university’s annual fund.

“As one of our most well-known alumni, Richard Meier has been associated with Cornell University and the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning through his gifts that support students and faculty,” wrote Kent Kleinman, dean of Architecture, Art and Planning, in a statement. “Although he has apologized, the reported behavior is unacceptable.”

Meier also designed Cornell’s Weill Hall, a 10-year-old life sciences technology building.

March 15, 2018

Continuing his campaign against Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes on U.S. campuses, Senator Marco Rubio has proposed adding provisions to a forthcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that would make colleges’ eligibility for some federal funding conditional upon the closure of their institutes.

“Title VI of the Higher Education Act provides federal grants for foreign studies programs,” Rubio wrote in a letter to the leadership of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, whose members are working on a draft bipartisan bill to reauthorize the HEA. “When a college or university accepts a Confucius Institute, it should become ineligible for a proportional amount of federal funding.”

Rubio, a Republican from Florida, also proposed introducing language to the Higher Ed Act that would require colleges to report any foreign gift of $50,000 or more to the secretary of education, and require them to count in-kind gifts and services from foreign donors toward that threshold. Currently universities only have to disclose foreign gifts worth $250,000 or more. 

Spokespeople for the chair of the Senate HELP committee and its ranking Democratic member did not comment on Rubio’s proposals Wednesday afternoon.

Rubio has emerged in recent months as a leading critic of what he describes as Chinese government efforts to influence teaching and research activities of American universities through the Confucius Institutes, centers of Chinese language and cultural education that are housed by about 100 American universities. Critics worry that the institutes represent a threat to the institutional autonomy and academic freedom of their host universities, while advocates say they offer valuable vehicles for academic and cultural exchange and provide welcome new resources for foreign language and cultural study at a time when American government funding for those objectives has diminished.

March 15, 2018

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy on Wednesday laid out the details of a plan to make community college free in his state as part of his first budget since being elected last year.

The budget included $50 million in tuition support for low-income students -- a “down payment,” he said, on a campaign pledge to make community college completely tuition-free in New Jersey by 2021.

That proposal, along with new spending on pre-K and transit programs, would be paid for with $1.6 billion generated through increases in the state sales tax and the state income tax for high-income residents.

In a video posted to his Twitter account, Murphy, a Democrat, spoke about his support for tuition-free community college for all New Jersey residents.

Murphy last month appointed Zakiya Smith, a former Obama administration official, as his secretary for higher education. Smith was most recently strategy director at the Lumina Foundation.


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