Competing student groups debate the American flag and appropriate memorial for 9/11

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College Republicans plant 2,997 flags on campus. Many are removed and trashed. Another student group questions the memorial and posts fliers to honor the Iraqis killed after U.S. invasion.

Making college work for students with autism (essay)

For graduating high school seniors who are entering college this fall, it is an exciting time. Possibilities have been opened! Yet now new concerns arise: Have they chosen the right college? Will they thrive?

These are hard questions for any young adult, but for those with autism, the stakes are especially high. A 2015 Autism Speaks report found that only 30 percent of high school graduates with autism ever attend a two- or four-year college, and those that do fare poorly. Research suggests that 80 percent of them never graduate. Furthermore, only 32 percent of high school graduates with autism find paying work within two years of graduating high school. This need not be. Half of all individuals with autism have average or above-average intelligence. They can do the work. The problem is not the students. It’s the colleges.

We come to this issue from an unusual perspective. One of us, Elizabeth, studies at Pasadena City College and has autism. The other, Margaret, teaches at California State University at Los Angeles, and -- in addition to being Elizabeth’s mother -- has worked with students on and off the spectrum. Together, we have seen the many ways that colleges fail students with autism.

Federal legislation, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, mandates that colleges provide reasonable accommodations for disabled students. But common accommodations, such as providing a quiet exam setting, don’t adequately address the problems faced by many students with autism.

As autism scholars Ernst VanBergeijk, Ami Klin and Fred Volkmar note, autism is a social disability. The inherent qualities of autism -- resistance to change, sensitive sensory systems, weakness at reading social cues and a tendency to take language literally -- interfere with communication and social engagement. A quiet exam room will not help students overcome those barriers. The problems students with autism face are more insidious.

Elizabeth, for example, struggles with understanding if professors are being sarcastic or rhetorical. Uncertain, she often responds too much or too little. When one professor expressed frustration at her eager hand raising, she asked privately if he would signal her when he wasn’t being serious or didn’t require a response. “No,” he said. “I don’t need to change my teaching for you, and you need to learn sarcasm.”

It would be easy to regard Elizabeth’s experience as exceptional, the product of one unsympathetic professor. Yet research out of Australia by Ru Ying Cai and Amanda L. Richdale confirms how common such experiences are. In focus groups, autistic college students told story after story about metaphorical or abstract language leading to confusion, as well as loud, active classrooms challenging their abilities to focus on learning. For many, the frustrations became too great, leading to stress, anxiety and regrettable outcomes. However, when students felt their social needs were met -- in particular when faculty members proved willing to modify their teaching style -- students had much more positive experiences.

But American professors are not required to modify their teaching style for disabled students, and colleges are not required to think about the social, communicative needs of any students, let alone those with autism. Those things are not considered reasonable accommodations. But if autism is indeed a social disability, then denying the social needs of autistic students is inherently unreasonable.

It would help if faculty members understood how autism affects learning. But professors are busy. They juggle many demands, and professional development is often low on their to-do lists. At Margaret’s university -- which houses an outstanding center for teaching and learning development -- professional development seminars are often poorly attended, especially those focused on helping students with special needs. At one seminar on working with hearing-impaired students, Margaret was one of three instructors to show up, and if our conversations with colleagues and peers are indicative, then Margaret’s experience is a common one. Even when given the opportunity to learn more about the needs of disabled students, professors turn those choices down.

Some positive changes are underway. More than 100 colleges now offer programs for students with autism, but most of them are private, expensive, residential programs. Meanwhile, research suggests that up to 80 percent of college students with autism at one point filter through community colleges, where students, often still highly dependent on family support, can live at home. Those institutions generally offer fewer resources for students with autism. If we are to meet the needs of neurodiverse students, public community colleges will need to lead the way.

In these days when most community college disability offices are underfunded -- Elizabeth’s community college does not even provide note takers -- meeting the needs of students with autism may seem daunting. But meaningful institutional changes do not need to strain budgets. For Elizabeth, the greatest support has often come from students who have chosen to act as social interpreters. A whispered word or two is often all she needs to better and more appropriately engage with her curriculum. Colleges like California State University at Fullerton already have mentorship programs that pair neurotypical and neuroatypical classmates.

We recommend expanding such programs so that peer mentors -- perhaps those offered the coveted privilege of priority registration -- work side by side with autistic students in the classroom. Of course, that brings us back to the privacy concerns voiced earlier. Peer mentors can only work with students who are willing to self-identify in the classroom as having autism, which is why autistic students themselves must also be involved in making campuses more responsive to their needs -- and that will only happen when students with autism bring neurodiversity into conversations about campus diversity.

Until that happens, faculty can do a lot to foster feelings of safety and inclusion for all students -- both with autism and without. Elizabeth advocates for simple kindness, acceptance and the understanding that some disabilities are invisible. In Margaret’s classes, she announces on day one that students registered with the school’s disability office should feel free to talk to her about not just the accommodations they may legally require but also about other things she can do to make her courses work for them. She shares -- with Elizabeth’s permission -- the struggles Elizabeth has faced in education, and she urges students to see her as someone who really wants to help them succeed.

Work by Nicholas Gelbar, Isaac Smith and Brian Reichow offers faculty members other suggestions for helping students on the spectrum: incorporate universal design into curriculum and assignments. As much as possible, use concrete language in both lectures and the syllabus. Break tasks down into more steps, provide greater organizational support, realize that group work, public speaking and active classrooms (such popular buzzwords in today’s curricular development) may offer particular challenges for students who struggle socially and who do not thrive in environments demanding rapid transitions. In other words, when dealing with students whose disability makes flexibility extremely difficult, faculty members must be the flexible ones. They must also take responsibility for educating themselves about neurodiversity, and if that seems too hard, they can do one last thing. They can defer to autistic students who do understand their own needs, and they can give those students the support they ask for.

One thing is undeniable: without significant changes, the traditional gateway to greater community inclusion and financial security will remain closed to people with autism. And that’s a tragedy, because those with autism have a lot to offer -- not just to our colleges, but also to our nation’s economy. We all win when everyone can compete and contribute.

Elizabeth Finnegan is a student at Pasadena City College. Margaret Finnegan teaches at California State University at Los Angeles. She is the author of Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women (Columbia University Press, 1999), and her work has appeared in College Communication and Composition, American Quarterly and other publications.

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iStock/Jason Enterline

New presidents or provosts: Broward Calif. CC Hopkins Illinois Portland River Valley Sudbury Wilberforce

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  • Sophie Bouffard, director and founder of La Cité Universitaire Francophone at the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan, has been appointed president and vice chancellor of the University of Sudbury, in Ontario.

Football Player Arrested for Punching Referee in Head

A football game between two California community colleges Saturday included the arrest of a player for punching a referee in the head. Bernard Shirmer, a player at Mt. San Antonio College, was arrested during a game with Ventura College. The Los Angeles Times reported that he was booked on suspicion of felony battery and released on bail Sunday morning. Video below shows the incident, which took place as the referee was separating groups of players who had been in a scuffle.

Mt. San Antonio College released a statement in which it said that punching the referee was an accident. "After closely reviewing video footage and interviewing those involved and outside witnesses, Mt. SAC maintains that the student-athlete, Bernard Shirmer, unintentionally hit the referee," the statement said. "During a disagreement after a play, numerous people surrounded him and pulled him away from the opposing player. Out of frustration, Mr. Shirmer struck himself on the helmet, a habit he often does to calm himself down. In doing so, he inadvertently hit the referee and initially believed someone else had done so. Mr. Shirmer expressed deep remorse about the incident and any harm to the referee."

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Charleston Southern Suspends 32 Football Players

Charleston Southern University suspended 32 of its football players after they violated National Collegiate Athletic Association rules by spending financial aid intended for textbooks on other items. Sixteen players have already served the one-game suspension, while another 14 sat out Saturday's game against Florida State University. The suspensions for the remaining two players have not yet occurred.

Several of the players protested their suspensions on social media this week, saying the money was spent on other important items -- such as writing utensils, electronics and clothing -- at the campus bookstore, and that they were unaware of any rules being broken. The players said campus bookstore employees suggested they spend the leftover money there "because it disappears if we don't."

In a Facebook post Thursday, Colton Korn, a wide receiver on the team, criticized the timing of the suspensions ahead of what was already going to be a tough game against Florida State. Korn said he believed the punishments were unfair given that other colleges, including some in Charleston Southern's conference, now offer full cost-of-attendance scholarships to athletes, which would include such items as clothing and school supplies. (Florida State won the game, 52 to 8.)

"It pains me to see my brothers from Florida having to call family and friends saying they won't be able to play this weekend, much less the fact that the school told them the day before travel that they will be sitting at home instead, giving barely any time to let family try to get out of financial obligations," Korn said. "As for me, a guy who has been blessed to start 36 games, attend as many other athletic events and school events as time would allow, do countless hours of community service wearing CSU clothes, I'm bewildered at the lack of respect that the university is showing us athletes and student body as a whole. I want to wish my brothers luck who are going into a hostile environment shorthanded."

Colleges that do not offer full cost-of-attendance scholarships can still provide a stipend for purchasing textbooks. NCAA rules do not limit how much money programs can give athletes to spend on textbooks, but the money must be "equal to the actual cost of the books purchased." In a statement Friday, the university said it is working with the NCAA, the Big South Conference and "an outside consultant" to review any additional rule violations. The university first announced it was looking into possible violations last week, saying that volleyball, cross-country and soccer players may also have spent financial aid improperly.

“Obviously it's not the situation you want to go in with a No. 3 or 4 team in the country,” Jamey Chadwell, the football team's head coach, told a local news station Friday. Florida State paid Charleston Southern $475,000 for the game.

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Despite recent criticism, college officials say bias response teams fill important need

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Amid growing concerns that they compromise academic freedom and free speech, college administrators offer defense of Bias Assessment and Response Teams.

Balcony Collapse Injures 30 Students at Trinity (Conn.)

More than 30 students at Trinity College in Connecticut were injured Saturday night when porches collapsed on top of one another at a three-story off-campus house, The Hartford Courant reported. While injuries were not life-threatening, some were serious, such as concussions and broken bones. Some students needed to have debris pulled off them. Officials said the building is owned by Trinity and managed by a private company. Five people live in the building and some of them are members of a fraternity, but the building is not a fraternity house. A statement issued by the college Sunday said a total of 28 students were hospitalized and a majority have been discharged after treatment.

Brian J. Foley, deputy police chief in Hartford, posted photos of the damage to Twitter.

The Trinity incident is not the first instance of injuries from the collapses of roofs or balconies in off-campus buildings where students are holding parties.

  • Nine students were injured in 2015 when a garage roof on which they had been holding a large party near California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo collapsed.
  • Nearly a dozen students at Indiana University at Bloomington were injured in 2014 when a balcony collapsed at an off-campus house.
  • A student at New York University was injured in 2013 when the stairs collapsed at an off-campus rooftop party.
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UCLA Settles Suit by Grad Students on Harassment Case

The University of California, Los Angeles, said Sunday that it settled with two graduate students who sued over its handling of a sexual harassment case against a professor of history. One graduate student will receive $350,000 and the other is owed $110,000 and a dissertation year fellowship, according to a statement from the university.

“UCLA is committed to maintaining an atmosphere where all students can live and learn free of discrimination, harassment, exploitation or intimidation,” reads the statement. “All members of the UCLA community are encouraged to report any incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence.”

Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow, both graduate students who have been public about their case, last year filed a complaint against the university, alleging that it took insufficient action against Gabriel Piterberg, the professor in question. The students say he repeatedly sexually harassed them and tried to touch them, and that the university was out of compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in education, in its response. Piterberg was fined $3,000 and told not to meet with his students in his office with the door closed, among other consequences. After a suspension lasting one academic quarter, he was allowed to return to teaching this semester, prompting student protests and faculty outcry. He has not responded publicly to the complaints about him.

UCLA said in its most recent statement that it’s taken steps since the time of the alleged violations, including creating its Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and establishing peer review committees to review proposed sanctions for any senior leader or faculty member found to have committed sexual harassment.


Pence Weighs In on ITT Tech's Collapse

Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana and Donald Trump's running mate, on Friday called on the federal government to help veterans of the U.S. military who attended the now-closed ITT Tech, Politico reported. Pence wrote to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ask for the restoration of GI Bill benefits for ITT students.

"Our veterans are being unfairly punished due to lack of flexibility in the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which does not take into account such situations, such as this recent closure, that are of no fault to the students," he wrote. "We cannot allow this to stand."

Also last week, Pence criticized the White House's stance on for-profits. "ITT Tech's situation is due in part to the Obama administration's overregulation, which is sadly killing jobs nationwide," his spokeswoman told the Indianapolis Star.

Philadelphia U, Thomas Jefferson U Will Merge

Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University on Friday announced a merger agreement. The combined institution of 7,500 students will be the fifth largest in Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson's programs are in the health sciences while Philadelphia's are in design, textiles, business and related professional fields. The combined institution is conducting a branding strategy that will influence how the combined institution will be described and promoted.

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