When our Board of Trustees first heard about our president being sent some threatening communications, we weren’t too worried. The president is well liked, affable and easily recognized in the community. With 60,000 students enrolled, three campuses and a $300 million operating budget, she’s an astute, popular figure whose energy and goodwill are legendary. She has led efforts that have raised $23 million in scholarships for needy students during her tenure.
Her nonstop schedule, however, frequently takes her out late at night, often alone, sometimes a couple hours’ drive from our campus. It is no exaggeration to say that she will travel anywhere to promote our college: she delivered a GED graduation speech at a correctional facility and mentors college students who are also teen parents in the community. She has a reputation for searching out students who are isolated or discouraged, giving them her personal phone number and texting them several times a week to check in on class attendance. Having grown up herself on the south side of Chicago, she has earned what she calls a well-rooted sense of invincibility.
Our president is also African-American and openly gay, and she talks very publicly about closing the achievement gap for students of color. She writes often about making our institution more LGBTQ friendly and nurtures what she calls “radical inclusion.” She led the charge to allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students -- undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children but are now college age -- to attend our institution at in-state tuition rates.
Any one of those elements could attract hostility from the unbalanced or the narrow-minded, but in a tight economy, and in the wake of a vitriolic presidential election, more folks have seemed to be looking for someone to blame. Some of the rhetoric of the campaigns encouraged those tendencies, making people the targets rather than ideas.
On top of those complexities, our president has made some gutsy -- and unpopular -- business decisions in her quest to expand opportunity to more students. When she determined that several auxiliary programs were running deficits for many years in a row, she took action -- including outsourcing the bookstores on our campuses. Some people lost their jobs, despite the college’s painstaking efforts to move them to new positions. She also closed three child care centers that were losing over a $400,000 a year -- a very unpopular decision. It was unequivocally the right decision for the college, though, given that fewer than 20 of our 60,000 students were using the facilities. We redirected the resources to address student needs, including ones in the Achieving the Promise Academy and our Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success program, both focused on increasing retention, persistence and graduation rates for at-risk students.
At about that time, we hired a new director of safety and security, a retired police officer with three decades of law-enforcement experience. In the wake of the tragedy at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, we wanted to heighten security for our students and employees, so we sought her out for her expertise. She immediately made changes: stepping up patrols in some high-trafficked areas, implementing active-shooter trainings, putting our security staff in uniforms, taking our local law enforcement teams on walk-throughs of the campuses and installing communications screens in classrooms.
What we didn’t expect, however, was that she would present our president’s safety in a new light: “How would you feel if something happened to your president?” The threats, the controversial business decisions, the late-night travel -- our safety and security director’s decades of experience told her that those were red flags. She demanded to know why we hadn’t acted sooner.
Suddenly we were asking ourselves important questions. Perhaps we needed to change our perspective. With her characteristic nonchalance, the president had brushed off some very explicit threats. She had dismissed our board’s concerns that she might be too unguarded in her interactions with responses like “If my conversations with a student can keep them enrolled or focused or inspired, it’s worth it. If my meeting with a community member can soothe their angst about the child care centers, it’s worth it.”
But the new director was someone who knew about the realities of violence. She had seen stalking and mental illness escalate into violence countless times in her career. Some of the messages to our president had been ugly, racist and homophobic. A man unknown to the college tried to deliver a suspicious package to her office that he claimed had to be given directly to her. A person commenting on social media said she should be “taken out” in reaction to a commencement speech she delivered. It’s not a matter of when someone targets the president, our new director said -- she already is a target.
On the director’s urgent recommendation, we quickly contracted a security firm to provide an officer to accompany the president for a six-month pilot. We did so with the knowledge that we would probably receive pushback, that our judgment would be questioned and that those who were looking to criticize us would do so with impunity. Taxpayer dollarsare going to protection for a college president? That’s the headline we will likely face, and we’ve already heard low-level grumblings about it. But to a person, our entire board was willing to take the heat about the decision to protect our president, because she had been willing -- even eager -- to risk much more for our students.
Maybe that’s the story, and the fundamental question, at the end of the day: How far should a president be expected to go for students? Our internal answer has been: a president with the passion and dedication that ours has shown over six years of leadership deserves our wholehearted support. And under these circumstances, that means security.
Marsha Suggs Smith is the chair of the Board of Trustees of Montgomery College.
Timothy P. White, chancellor of the California State University System, said Wednesday that the university will not help federal immigration authorities under the Trump administration take steps that could lead to the deportation of undocumented students, The Los Angeles Times reported. "Our police departments will not honor immigration hold requests," White said. "Our university police do not contact, detain, question or arrest individuals solely on the basis of being … a person that lacks documentation." The university does not track the number of undocumented students enrolled, but estimates that it has about 10,000 across its campuses.
White's statement reflects a growing movement by students and others to have colleges become "sanctuary campuses" where officials will not help federal authorities track or deport undocumented students. Many students rallied for this cause on Wednesday.
UPDATE: Chancellor White's office issued a statement indicating that he was not making Cal State part of the sanctuary movement.
"The chancellor’s public statement made at today’s Board of Trustees meeting reaffirms the university’s commitment to providing a safe and welcoming learning community. The CSU will continue to comply with all federal immigration laws, but the enforcement of those laws is the responsibility of the federal government, not the CSU, and absent a legal requirement the CSU will not enter into agreements with federal authorities for its University to enforce federal immigration and hold requests. The chancellor’s statements reaffirm the university’s existing approach dealing with immigration agencies and enforcement. Furthermore, the word 'sanctuary' is a confusing term that lacks a universal legal or educational definition and, as such, if used could lead to misunderstanding and misplaced reliance. As such, the university remains committed to embracing the diversity of our students, faculty and staff with a focus on inclusivity and excellence and a safe and welcoming environment.
Many presidents try to build support for new strategic plans. But Rebecca Bergman, president of Gustavus Adolphus, has gone farther than most -- Bergman and her husband have pledged $4 million to the college to help carry out various parts of the plan. Details of the gift may be found here.
The association said that several errors occurred when the university attempted to transfer its academic records from an "outdated system to a new system," and that the athletic department did a poor job of record keeping. The mistakes led to 218 athletes across all of the university's sport programs being improperly certified. The university had also previously been placed on probation for not meeting the NCAA's academic performance benchmarks, a sanction that required the university to reduce its amount of in-season playing and practice times. "Because of turnover at the university, especially in the compliance office, the university did not communicate the restrictions to the coaches, and the penalties were not completed," the NCAA stated.
Southern University also exceeded scholarship limits in five sports when it failed to properly apply financial aid rules to tuition waivers provided by the state of Louisiana to college athletes.
The NCAA placed the university on probation for five years and will vacate records of games in which athletes participated while ineligible. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of a $5,000 fine and scholarship reductions across several programs, including women's soccer, softball, baseball, men's and women's basketball, and football.
Submitted by Paul Fain on November 17, 2016 - 3:00am
Newt Gingrich and U.S. Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, are slated to join Career Education Colleges and Universities at an event Friday. The group, which is the primary trade organization for the for-profit sector, is announcing a new campaign to close the skills gap with five million trained professionals. Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a prominent adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, in August appeared in a web video with Steve Gunderson, the for-profit group's president and CEO.
Submitted by Paul Fain on November 16, 2016 - 3:00am
New federal numbers show that students who complete a college degree or certificate are more likely to be employed than their peers who don't. The data from the U.S. Department of Education is based on a study of 16,700 students who first enrolled in college in 2003. Those who had earned a credential by 2009 were more likely to hold employment at that time. Students who earned a degree were more likely to be employed than those who earned a certificate.
Submitted by Jake New on November 16, 2016 - 3:00am
High graduation rates for African-American men's basketball players are "fueling an all-time high graduation success rate for Division I college athletes," the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Tuesday. Over all, according to the NCAA, 80 percent of Division I men's basketball players graduated within six years, including 77 percent of black players -- a three percentage point increase from last year. The graduation success rate for all Division I athletes was 86 percent.
“This is a hugely significant and extremely important moment,” Mark Emmert, the NCAA's president, said. “Over the last 15 years, the overall graduation success rate has dramatically improved, but the really good news is how college sports helps more and more minority students, especially those playing our highest-profile sport, earn a degree that will help them long after their athletics career is over.”
Submitted by Jake New on November 16, 2016 - 3:00am
The women's basketball team at Thomas More College, a Division III institution in Kentucky, will be stripped of its national championship title because a star player lived with a former assistant coach while recovering from a knee injury. The National Collegiate Athletic Association on Tuesday announced that the college violated NCAA rules by allowing the athlete, Sydney Moss, to stay with the assistant coach, Jerry Allen, who was a volunteer with the program at the time, but also a longtime family friend.
"Sydney had a real tough upbringing," David Armstrong, the college's president, said during a media conference Tuesday. "She has had a tough upbringing and Jerry Allen and his family, also a biracial couple, were her friends since seventh grade. So when she injured her knee, she stayed with them."
Armstrong said the living arrangement was an unintentional mistake. In its infractions report, the NCAA acknowledged that Moss and Allen had long treated each other like family, but said that such a relationship does not exclude them from NCAA rules. The association said that the misunderstanding "stemmed from the college's failure to provide adequate rules education." Thomas More College must vacate all wins from the team's undefeated 2014-15 season in which Moss participated, agree to an outside audit of the college' athletics program, pay a $2,500 fine and remain on probation for two years, the NCAA stated.
Several staff members, including the head women's basketball coach, must also attend a regional rules seminar organized by the NCAA.