Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 5, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Carleton College Week, Nathan Grawe, professor of economics, describes how lower fertility rates could hurt college admissions in the near future. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 2, 2018

The fallout from an athletics scandal that has roiled the University of Maryland at College Park campus continues.

The head of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, James T. Brady, intends to resign. The regents had been sharply criticized for urging College Park president Wallace D. Loh to keep head football coach DJ Durkin despite that a pair of investigations revealed that athletics staffers were responsible for a player’s death in June and showed an abusive culture among the coaching staff. In a statement, Brady said, "In recent days, I have become the public face of both the board and its decisions related to these matters. In my estimation, my continued presence on the board will inhibit its ability to move Maryland’s higher education agenda forward.  And I have no interest in serving as a distraction from that important work."

Loh announced his retirement in June 2019, and while initially Durkin was to remain in his position, he was fired on Wednesday after Loh met with students, professors and administrators.

Meanwhile, the university’s major fund-raising arm, the University of Maryland College Park Foundation Board of Trustees, wrote to Brady and the regents informing them that they had dealt a “fatal blow” to the group’s $1.5 billion campaign, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Academic leaders on the campus have also urged Loh to reverse his decision to retire.

Further, the Sun reported that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is discussing the status of Maryland's accreditation in light of the current situation.


November 2, 2018

The heads of Rutgers University, Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison asked Betsy DeVos in an open letter Thursday “to do everything you can” to stop the Trump administration from undermining the rights of transgender students.

According to news reports, the Department of Health and Human Services is considering defining gender as determined at birth by a person’s genitalia. While the Education Department is crafting a Title IX campus sexual misconduct regulation, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the latest draft won’t include a definition of gender.

But DHHS is calling on other federal agencies responsible for enforcing the federal Title IX law, including the Departments of Justice and Labor, to adopt the definition. Rutgers president Robert Barchi, Wisconsin-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank and Princeton president Christopher L. Eisgruber said that would withdraw protections from students who face discrimination, isolation and harassment.

“Much work has been done in recent years to understand and reduce the challenges and ordeals experienced by transgender people,” the college leaders wrote. “This is no time for the country to turn its back on these valued members of our communities.”

November 2, 2018

Ari Kohen, associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, reportedly was taken to task last week by a staffer for U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, after he liked a Facebook photo of a defaced campaign sign for the Nebraska Republican. William “Reyn” Archer III, Fortenberry’s chief of staff, told the Lincoln Journal-Star that he called Kohen after learning that he’d liked the photo, which depicts Fortenberry with googly eyes and other unflattering changes. “It’s against the law and uses the resources of the city, and [Kohen] thinks it’s OK to like it,” Archer said. When he didn’t hear back from Kohen right away, Archer emailed Kohen’s department chair, dean and chancellor to complain about what he called Kohen’s support for “political vandalism.”

The university declined comment on the matter. Kohen reportedly returned Archer’s call last week. “It wasn’t clear at all what he wanted from me, if he wanted me to unlike it or retract it,” Kohen told the Journal-Star, saying he’d since filed a complaint against Archer with the House Ethics Committee. “He told me they could put this out publicly that I liked vandalism, and essentially, that that would be bad for me.” Archer has denied threatening Kohen and called the conversation “amicable.” The American Association of University Professors on Thursday published a petition to Fortenberry, asking him to “publicly repudiate your chief of staff’s actions to threaten and harass Kohen, and to stand unequivocally for academic freedom and free speech for all faculty.”

November 2, 2018

TIAA Institute on Thursday published findings of a national survey of more than 500 adjunct faculty members. The majority of adjunct instructors are over 40 and primarily teach at a single college or university, “countering common perceptions that faculty is younger and teach at multiple colleges while pursuing a tenure-track position,” according to TIAA. Some 56 percent of those surveyed have their master’s degree while one-third have a doctorate. Just over half of the sample (52 percent) teach one of two courses at a single campus. Twenty-two percent teach three or more classes at two or more institutions.

Half of those surveyed said they would prefer to have a tenure-track position. Ten percent would prefer a full-time, non-tenure-track position. One-quarter preferred adjuncting. Adjunct faculty are paid an average of $3,000 per course, according to TIAA, but 60 percent of those surveyed are paid less than that. Adjuncts under 40 and those with Ph.D.s reported higher levels of dissatisfaction with their academic careers than others surveyed.

November 2, 2018

After the Trump administration lost a federal court battle over 2016 Obama borrower-defense regulations, Democratic attorneys general are seeking answers about when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will begin issuing loan forgiveness to borrowers who attended now defunct for-profit colleges.

The regulations, which went into effect last month, require the Education Department to automatically discharge the federal student loans of borrowers whose institution closed on or after Nov. 1, 2013, and who didn't enroll elsewhere within three years of the college's closure. In a letter to DeVos this week, attorneys general for 21 states as well as the District of Columbia wrote that tens of thousands of borrowers should now qualify for loan forgiveness.

"The Department's 2016 regulations leave no discretion to withhold this relief," they wrote. "Three years after a school closes, the department is obligated to process the closed-school discharges for all eligible students."

The Obama administration had sought to include the automatic discharge provision in the 2016 regulation in part because nearly half of eligible borrowers never apply for that relief.

The Education Department did not offer a comment in response to the letter.

November 2, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Jacob Sawyer, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State Mont Alto, explores whether a belief in God is necessary for coping with the death of a loved one. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


November 1, 2018

A football player at Rutgers University, Izaia Bullock, was charged in with two counts of first-degree attempted murder and two counts of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, NJ.com reported. The counts relate to a plan to murder two family members of a friend. Bullock was being held in jail and could not be reached for comment. Rutgers dismissed him from the team Tuesday.

November 1, 2018

Utah Valley University paid $45,000 to settle a lawsuit in which the former director of its Title IX office claimed she had been fired after looking into allegations of sexual harassment by senior administrators, among other reasons, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The university announced the settlement with Melissa Frost on Monday but declined to disclose any details about the terms. But a settlement document released in response to an open-records request, the newspaper reported, revealed the payment and the fact that neither side admitted fault.

Utah Valley denied Frost's assertions, which also included that campus police paid less attention to sexual assault allegations brought by gay men, in court.

November 1, 2018

David Sweatt, Allan D. Bass Chair in Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, is on leave over accusations that he drugged and raped a graduate student at a conference in another state in 2015, according to Buzzfeed News. Vanderbilt reportedly suspended Sweatt in August, just days after a scientist accused him of rape on Twitter, but 11 months after the university received an anonymous report, but not a formal complaint, about him. 

The anonymous student named in university documents obtained by Buzzfeed News in an open records request declined comment. Sweatt’s attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, denied the allegations, saying they are part of a “destructive political agenda.” Vanderbilt has said it is investigating the matter, and that the August tweet about Sweatt provided enough additional information to initiate a formal review. University of Alabama at Birmingham, where Sweatt worked at the time the alleged incident, said the “safety concern” was referred to Vanderbilt.


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