Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 31, 2018

An arbitrator ordered Ryerson University in Canada to amend its faculty collective bargaining agreement to ensure that student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are not used to measure teaching effectiveness for promotion or tenure. The evaluations’ numerical weighting system also should be replaced with an alphabetical one, according to the order, and both Ryerson administrators and the campus Faculty Association must meet to agree upon “appropriate, user-friendly, intelligible and easily accessible mode of presentation of [evaluation] data in the form of a frequency distribution together with response rates.”

The order is the result of an ongoing dispute between Ryerson and its faculty association over the use of Faculty Course Surveys, its SETs, in personnel decisions such as tenure and promotion. Much research suggests that SETs reflect student biases and other factors unrelated to one’s teaching, and that these evaluations therefore should not be used in high-stakes personnel decisions. The Canadian arbitrator’s order cites this evidence, saying "the best way to assess teaching effectiveness is through the careful assessment of the teaching dossier and in-class peer evaluations.”

 While it is “probably impossible to precisely measure teaching effectiveness,” the order says, “the difficulties in doing so cannot serve as a justification for over-relying on a tool ­– the SET – that the evidence indicates generates ratings but has little usefulness in measuring teaching effectiveness.”

At the same time, evaluation results “can continue to be used in tenure and promotion, when the results are presented as frequency distributions, and when the end users are appropriately educated and cautioned about the inherent limitations both about the tool and the information it generates.” SET results “provide information about the student experience, and, contextualized, are appropriately considered for tenure and promotion although, to repeat, not for reaching conclusions about teaching effectiveness,” reads the order.

Deans and those who otherwise evaluate faculty members also must be educated on inherent biases present within students’ evaluations of teaching and Ryerson and its faculty should establish a committee to study the current evaluation tool and possible improvements. And until both parties agree on a substitution for the online evaluation system for non-online courses, it is to be discontinued for probationary faculty, the order says.

August 31, 2018

A member of Ohio State University’s Board of Trustees has resigned, saying that the institution’s three-game suspension for head football coach Urban Meyer was too light after an investigation found Meyer mishandled accusations of domestic violence against a former assistant coach.

Jeffrey Wadsworth, a retired engineer and executive, stepped down shortly after the university announced the punishment against Meyer earlier this month. He told The New York Times Thursday that he was the “lone voice” in “advocating a harsher punishment.”

“To me, there was something altogether wrong about reducing it to a couple of games,” he told the Times.

Meyer was suspended for three September games after a panel found that he knew of multiple occasions on which Zach Smith, the now-fired assistant coach, had been accused of abuse by his ex-wife, Courtney Smith. Zach Smith has denied the abuse.

Meyer did not report Courtney Smith’s allegations in 2015 to the athletics compliance office. Meyer also deleted text messages from his phone following a public records request, an apparent attempt to conceal the information, although in their final report investigators could not conclude this definitively.

Meyer has also been blasted after the panel reported “memory loss” as a potential reason he did not disclose to reporters that he knew of the 2015 allegations against Zach Smith.

“You read the report,” Wadsworth told the Times. “And there’s seven or eight things about emails, memory loss, hearing things five times, and to me that raised an issue of standards, values -- not how many games someone should be suspended for.”

Wadsworth is the first among the 20 board members to speak publicly about Meyer’s case, which the trustees debated for roughly 11 hours before announcing the decision with university president Michael V. Drake.

In a statement to the Times confirming Wadsworth’s resignation, the university said, “The president and the Board of Trustees had a frank and comprehensive discussion last week. A wide variety of perspectives were expressed in reaching a consensus. Mr. Wadsworth has been an exceptionally valuable member of the board. His service to the university is deeply appreciated and we wish him the very best.”

August 31, 2018

Michigan State University has been cleared in the National Collegiate Athletic Association investigation into whether it properly handled reports of sexual assaults committed by former university doctor Larry Nassar, according to the institution.

The NCAA found Michigan State didn’t violate association rules with the Nassar case, according to a statement from the university, which said that Jonathan F. Duncan, the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement, wrote in a letter to officials telling them that "it does not appear there is a need for further inquiry."

Michigan State was also cleared in the NCAA investigation over sexual misconduct allegations against members of the football and men’s basketball teams, the university said.

“We welcome closure in regards to the NCAA inquiry. MSU cooperated fully with the inquiry over the past several months and provided all requested documentation and access to key personnel,” athletics director Bill Beekman said in a statement.

"In regards to the crimes committed on our campus by Larry Nassar, the NCAA findings do not change a thing. NCAA member organizations have a specific set of rules to which we hold each other accountable. And while we agree with the NCAA that we did not commit a violation, that does not diminish our commitment to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student athletes. That pledge permeates everything we do as part of a larger university commitment to making MSU a safer campus."

Beekman said in his statement that the NCAA’s findings validate how head football coach Mark Dantonio and head men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo are administering their programs.

“Mark and Tom represent the athletic department and Michigan State University with integrity,” Beekman said.

The investigations follow Nassar’s highly publicized trial and sentencing -- he will spend the rest of his life in prison after he was found to have sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls both at Michigan State and in his role as a physician for the United States gymnastics team. Michigan State has settled with victims from the institution to the tune of $500 million.

The accusations against the two athletics programs stem from an ESPN report from January.

August 31, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Babson College Week, Siddharth Vedula, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson, examines why some cities are better than others at being green. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

August 30, 2018

A proposed rule dealing with campus sexual misconduct would narrow the definition of sexual harassment and only hold colleges accountable for investigating formal complaints, according to a report Wednesday in The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal separately reported details of the proposal.

The rule would also require institutions to only investigate incidents on campus or from campus-sponsored activities. And it would also allow colleges to set their own standard of evidence for determining misconduct by accused students and would narrow the definition of sexual harassment, the Times reports. 

The Education Department called the report premature. But many details reported by the Times -- such as discretion for campuses to set their own standard of evidence -- reflect temporary guidance issued by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last year.

DeVos said at the time that she would craft a new federal regulation to replace guidance issued by the Obama administration in 2011 and 2014 on colleges' responsibility to investigate and adjudicate sexual misconduct on campus. It will be the first time the Education Department has issued regulation, which has the force of law, rather than guidance documents on Title IX.

"Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes," DeVos said last year.

Under the Obama guidance, colleges were directed to investigate complaints of misconduct whether they occurred on or off campus. And they were directed to use what's known as a preponderance of evidence standard to reach findings in campus proceedings, which sets a lower burden of proof than the clear and convincing standard advocated by many critics of the Obama administration's approach.

According to the Times report, the rule would explicitly state that an institution's treatment of an accused student could constitute sex discrimination just as treatment of a complainant could.

Democratic lawmakers and women's advocacy groups responded to the report Wednesday by saying DeVos had rejected the concerns of survivors.

“It’s shameful and appalling that Secretary DeVos is still considering issuing a rule would make it harder for students to seek justice if they’ve been sexually assaulted on campus," said Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the ranking member on the Senate education committee.

But Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, said the administration is "in the midst of a deliberative process."

"Any information The New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative and therefore we have no comment," she said.

August 30, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this week delayed for the second time a final decision on the federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, an oversight body the Obama administration had sought to eliminate.

The department had until the end of July to review additional documents that a federal judge ruled the Obama administration had improperly failed to consider. DeVos had previously extended that review to Sept. 4. On Tuesday she issued an order extending that review to Sept. 28, citing the "voluminous nature of the records under review."

ACICS had overseen now-defunct for-profit chains ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges.

An internal staff report released in June after an open-records battle found the organization failed the majority of federal standards for accreditors. But those findings won't be considered as part of the department's current review.

August 30, 2018

The University of Arizona has kicked an athlete off the football team after video surfaced of him making racist remarks, The Arizona Daily Star reported. The video shows Santino Marchiol, a transfer student from Texas A&M University, referring to black teammates as "monkeys." Marchiol and his family did not comment on the video.

August 30, 2018

Four Kennesaw State University cheerleaders who protested police brutality by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at football games last season will not be on the squad this fall, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. A fifth will join the squad.

The protests prompted the university to keep all cheerleaders in a stadium tunnel during the anthem; it also prompted campus protests and may have helped lead to the resignation of the university’s president, Sam Olens.

The cheerleaders, who become known as the Kennesaw Five, said they knelt at a Sept. 30 football game to protest injustice and racism. Many in the community saw the protests differently, including Cobb County sheriff Neil Warren, who said the students “need to learn all that the flag truly represents.”

Last October, after the first protests, University System of Georgia officials held a two-day meeting during which they told Olens and the presidents of the state's public universities that state guidance says taking a knee during the anthem is free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution -- and that it should not be interfered with unless it causes a disruption.

The following Saturday, Kennesaw State nonetheless kept its cheerleaders in the stadium tunnel before the anthem. In a subsequent report, system officials said Olens didn’t follow the guidance.

The Journal-Constitution last October reported that Warren and State Representative Earl Ehrhart boasted in a series of text messages about pressuring Olens into keeping the cheerleaders off the field. The text messages, which the newspaper obtained under open-records law, appeared to contradict Olens’s contention that the move was made by the athletic department and had nothing to do with the protests.​

“Thanks for always standing up too [sic] these liberal that hate the USA,” Warren wrote to Ehrhart, who chairs the committee that allocates funds to public universities.

In a later message, Ehrhart seemingly confirmed that Olens had caved to pressure, writing, “He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice.”

Olens announced plans to resign last December. His replacement, Pamela Whitten, told the Journal-Constitution last week that she would be open to meeting with the cheerleaders and students involved in the protests.

August 30, 2018

Every fall some number of college football teams get on the field with bigger, faster teams representing wealthier sports programs, and the results are usually not pretty -- on the scoreboard and, sometimes, in the training room where injured players get treated after the beatings. (See these previous Inside Higher Ed articles on the phenomenon and whether the big payouts the losing teams receive in guaranteed payments are worth it.)

As the 2018 season kicks off, USA Today explores this year's slate of "guarantee" games and finds that $175 million will flow from high-profile teams (in search of victories in early-season tune-ups for their conference schedules) to teams from sports programs intent on closing major gaps in their budgets or trying to prove they belong in the upper tier of college football's Football Bowl Subdivision. The national newspaper notes that Kent State University will earn $3.65 million by playing three games against Big Ten and Southeastern Conference universities, and that Middle Tennessee State University's team will play games against three Southeastern Conference teams.

August 30, 2018

Yale University has announced a $160 million gift from Edward P. Bass to support the renovation of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. The gift is believed to be the largest ever to a natural history museum in the United States.

Browse other gifts to colleges and information about capital campaigns in Inside Higher Ed's fund-raising database.

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