Facing criticism for conflicts of interest, the former president of the Arkansas State University system has requested unpaid leave from the university, while he works for an online education company that sells its services to Arkansas State, officials announced Thursday. Les Wyatt, a professor of art and higher education and the former system chief, had been collecting a $115,000 salary from the university, while at the same time working as a consultant for Academic Partnerships, LLC, formerly known as Higher Ed Holdings. Critics have questioned how the company secured a lucrative contract without any input from non-administrative faculty, and Wyatt said he is turning down his pay from the university to “put an end to speculation about my motives and make clear that I am standing for the university’s best interests.”
Higher Education Quick Takes
Monty Cook, a faculty member hired by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to lead a new digital media program, has resigned after being confronted with racy text messages about his relationship with a female student, The News and Observer reported. The text messages were reported by the student's former boyfriend. Cook could not be reached, but admitted the relationship, university officials said. Students in the digital media program Cook led joined in reporting on the controversy.
The U.S. Justice Department announced on Wednesday that four student loan providers had agreed to pay $57.8 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit that accused them of abusing a loophole in federal law to derive hundreds of millions of dollars in excess federal subsidies. The four lenders are Nelnet ($47 million), Southwest Student Services Corp. ($5 million), Brazos Higher Education ($4 million), and Panhandle Plains Higher Education Authority ($1.75 million). The lawsuit was brought by Jon H. Oberg, a former Education Department official who went public with charges that those lenders and others had illegally profited from a provision in federal law that allowed them to continue to make loans for which they were guaranteed an interest rate return of 9.5 percent. As the individual who brought the False Claims Act suit, Oberg will receive a total of $16.5 million under the settlement, with the rest going to the U.S. Treasury.
As California's public colleges and universities have faced severe budget shortfalls, many state residents have been slow to see a problem, but that may be changing. A statewide survey released by the Public Policy Institute of California found increases in the percentage of Californians who appear to see real problems. Among California residents, 74 percent of residents say the state does not provide enough money for colleges and universities, up 17 points from 57 percent in October 2007. Most Californians (68 percent) believe that spending for public higher education should be given a high or very high priority — up from 54 percent in November 2008, And 57 percent favor spending more on higher education, even at the expense of other programs.
Authorities arrested 13 people, 11 of them students, who were protesting tuition increases and budget cuts at a University of California Board of Regents meeting, the Los Angeles Times reported. Authorities defended the use of pepper spray and the drawing of a service revolver by one officer, saying that the protesters were posing a real danger -- a charge they countered with allegations of excessive force.
The Medill Innocence Project of Northwestern University's Journalism School is known for its successful efforts to clear the names of the wrongly convicted. But prosecutors and Northwestern are looking into allegations that the project secretly (and potentially illegally) taped a witness, the Chicago Tribune reported. The director of the program says that he does not believe any laws were violated. In the past, prosecutors have frequently been critical of the project's work.
Supporters of Quinetta Shelby released documents Wednesday suggesting bias in her tenure denial at DePaul University. Shelby is the only black faculty member in the chemistry department at the university, and while she was rejected by her department, a university appeals panel found that she was treated unfairly. Among other things, the appeals panel found that her department changed policies after the review started, refused to consider some of her publications and awards even though they met criteria that had been established, and seemed to focus on minor negative issues in otherwise positive portions of her tenure file. The "numerous procedural violations" raised significant questions of fairness, the appeals panel found, suggesting that the negative departmental recommendation be set aside.
The Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, DePaul's president, has declined to reverse the decision.
A university statement acknowledged that in the last year, six minority candidates were denied tenure, but the statement said that standards are applied equally and that in the previous three academic years, DePaul University awarded tenure to minority faculty at the same rate (84 percent) as white scholars. Still, the university is conducting a study on best practices in helping candidates prepare for tenure. "Denials of tenure are sad days in a university community, precisely because a well-known colleague is not granted lifetime employment. That is true in the case of our colleague Dr. Shelby as well," the statement said.
The national job market for new college graduates is likely to be a little healthier this year, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. While overall hiring is expected to increase by 3 percent, bachelor's level and M.B.A. level hiring both are expected to go up by 10 percent. Even with these gains, however, new grads should expect a tough time -- and nothing like the relatively healthy markets of the 1990s and early part of this decade.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday rejected a new attempt by the Christian Legal Society to challenge the rules of the Hastings College of Law of the University of California requiring student organizations to abide by the institution's anti-bias rules. The U.S. Supreme Court this year upheld the right of the university to enforce its rules, but left open the possibility of a legal challenge if the law school were found to be treating the Christian Legal Society in a different way than other groups. (The society bars gay people and others who do not share its religious views --- and that violates the Hastings rules). The appeals court found no evidence or argument had been made that Hastings is using a pretext to deny recognition to the Christian Legal Society.
The Food and Drug Administration warned the makers of four alcoholic energy drinks popular with college students that adding caffeine to malt beverages is unsafe and that the drinks could be seized if they continue to be marketed improperly to the public. The warnings came on the same day that the maker of one of the drinks, Four Loko, which has been implicated in several recent incidents on campuses, announced that it would remove caffeine and other stimulants from its product.