Submitted by Paul Fain on January 10, 2017 - 3:00am
The U.S. Department of Education last month finalized its decision to terminate the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a controversial national accrediting agency that oversaw Corinthian Colleges, ITT and other failed for-profits.
Before the end of December, all remaining ACICS institutions filed paperwork with the department to retain their federal aid eligibility for 18 months while seeking a new accreditor, the department said this week. The roughly 245 colleges collectively received $4.76 billion in federal aid during 2015.
Ted Mitchell, the U.S. under secretary of education, said in an interview that he was encouraged by the transition process so far for ACICS-accredited colleges.
“The institutions are taking their responsibilities seriously,” he said. “We’re working to make this transition as successful as possible.”
Most of the colleges have begun seeking approval from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, a national accrediting agency. Michale McComis, the commission’s executive director, said last week that 180 ACICS-accredited institutions have formally initiated the process. He expects that number to grow to 210 colleges by the end of January.
Some experts on for-profit higher education have predicted that substantial numbers of ACICS-accredited institutions will fail to find a new agency home within 18 months. One higher education lawyer said that challenge remains, and that the department had overplayed its celebration of ACICS institutions successfully completing their federal aid extension paperwork.
Mitchell, however, said the process of getting roughly 245 institutions to sign provisional Program Participation Agreements was complex and required collaboration between the feds and ACICS-approved colleges. The agreements include monitoring and reporting requirements the department said are intended to protect taxpayers and students.
In addition, Mitchell said he was confident that well-run institutions among the group “will have the time to secure accreditation.”
ACICS has sued to block the department’s decision to de-recognize the accreditor. A judge last month denied a request from ACICS for a temporary injunction.
It’s unclear if the incoming Trump administration would be able to overturn the department’s move to eliminate ACICS, or if it would seek to try.
The New York Times recently featured a front-page story that focused on Stanford University’s procedures for adjudicating on-campus rapes, implicitly criticizing the university for demanding that its hearing board reach a unanimous decision of guilt before disciplining any student offender. The university, which disputed the article, seemed to suggest that anything less would be unfair to the accused rapist.
But it is not the demand for unanimity that is offensive, but the very idea that the university -- any university -- is competent to hear such a case. Such procedural details are not the problem, and suggesting that they are is both a distraction and an implicit acceptance of the notion that Stanford is competent to judge such matters. The simple fact is that universities have no business hearing such cases in the first place. Notwithstanding concerns for Title IX, they should never have been allowed to pursue the matter -- at least not exclusively or without full disclosure to the alleged victim of the downsides of pursuing such a course of action. For, by doing so, they both compromise justice and public safety, as well as inadvertently legitimize the stigma of rape itself.
Stanford and all other institutions of higher learning are woefully unprepared to handle the complexity of rape cases, lacking sophisticated evidentiary processes, forensic skills and the compulsory force of the law required of such cases. University hearings are invariably shrouded in secrecy, lack transparency, fail to produce an accessible transcript or mechanism for appeal, and are riddled with procedural quirks and flaws that range widely not only from campus to campus but also from administration to administration. There is little standardization and ample room for chicanery, backroom deals and institutional bias. Neither the accuser nor the accused enjoy the rights accorded by a court of law and the Constitution. For both sides in such a tribunal, due process matters.
Over the years, both as a journalist researching a book and articles, and as a professor comforting students who have been traumatized, I have interviewed more than a dozen young women who have said they were raped on their campuses. What they all have in common is the sense that they were twice victimized: once by the rapist, once by the university that heard their case. Many complain of the suffocating secrecy to which they were subjected. Others say they were banned from introducing the cases of other women who claim that they, too, were raped by the assailant. Still others say that even when the rapist is judged to be guilty, the punishment is often laughably lax -- a term suspension, an essay, official censure. And even those who are thrown out of college start with a clean slate -- the record of their rape shielded from public view and the next institution that accepts them. The criminal court is armed with forensics and must take into account the safety and well-being of the greater community. In contrast, the campus hearing is often a he said, she said spectacle that looks no further than the status of two students.
Such hearings reflect a measure of university hubris, a presumption that higher education officials are up to the task. And why rape? Why not murder? Why not arson? No campus in the nation would suggest that these other crimes go unreported or that a body of deans and other administrators are qualified to hear such cases. A university has as much authority and insight handling a rape case as a prosecutor and detective have drafting learning objectives and curricular requirements.
Let’s state the obvious, although apparently not so obvious to universities: rape is a felony, a crime of the most severe order that can and does on occasion lead to felony murder and that invariably produces lasting psychological, if not physical, scars. Many of the alleged perpetrators are not students who have merely gone astray and who need to be disciplined or counseled. They are dangerous criminals, predatory creatures who are likely to strike again -- and often do. The university hearing mechanism is ideal for trying cases of cheating, plagiarism, vandalism or harassment. They are well suited for meting out penalties that range from a loss of academic credit to expulsion. But rape is several orders of magnitude above such offenses, and the first order of business after a finding of guilt is to remove the offender from the community and place that person behind bars. A number of the women whom I interviewed later found themselves in classes with their assailants.
Of course, universities say they are acting out of the sui generis nature of rape, that the trauma of the crime necessitates special handling. Many women do not want to come forward after an assault, fearing the public attention, the spectacle of a trial, the delving into their sexual history, the cross-examination phase and the like. And yes, many rapes on and off campus go unreported.
But the accommodation that universities make for rape victims only exposes other potential victims to the assault down the line, and in most cases, university rape counselors are instructed to listen, comfort and advise but not to encourage the women to report the crime to the police. They merely mention it as one of many options. That may sound sensitive and enlightened, but among the women I have interviewed, a number say they were not the first victims of the attacker.
I would argue that universities have an affirmative obligation to make clear to the victim that, while they will respect their choice, there could be consequences for other people if the crime goes unreported. Universities are, after all, a part of a broader community.
And not all universities are acting solely out of compassion or magnanimity. They have their own unspoken interests in the outcome. No university wants to be associated with rape or have its reputation as a safe haven for young people undermined. They are required to submit so-called Clery reports of serious crimes to the U.S. Department of Education, and these are a matter of public record. But compliance with the reporting requirements is uneven and sometimes subject to discretion and abuse.
Other interests are at work, as well. Nothing frightens away potential applicants faster than a rash of on-campus rapes. While never overtly stated, concerns about protecting the reputation of the university for its prospective candidates, parents and donors is often just below the surface.
What’s more, universities -- particularly those whose robust athletic programs enjoy television revenues, bowl games and appearances in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament -- have a definite pecuniary interest in maintaining the eligibility of their star athletes. For Stanford, the game is football, and yes, the young man accused of rape in the most recent case is a player on that vaunted team -- currently ranked among the nation’s top 20. At such institutions, the marquee sports are cash cows that help fund other athletic programs and draw additional applicants, and are a recruiting magnet for future standout athletes. A rape case involving a member of any such team can have a devastating impact on the program.
And it is no secret the celebrity and ego that goes with being a star or big man on campus has produced more than its share of offenders. But because the hearing process is shrouded in secrecy, it is virtually impossible to determine to what degree, if any, the athletic department has brought pressure on the process.
Great universities like Stanford put their integrity at risk when they conduct themselves in secrecy and handle matters that are beyond their rightful purview. They raise the specter of hypocrisy each time they conduct such hearings. It matters not that the participants in such hearings are earnest or that they do their homework. Rape transcends the abilities of such forums and is trivialized by the notion that it can be dealt with by a committee lacking any of the complex apparatus that has evolved to handle serious criminal matters.
The complexities of such cases test the limits of the criminal justice system and the wisdom of jurors guided by judges, the rules of evidence, the demands of the Sixth and Fourth Amendments, the appellate procedures, forensic materials, and on and on. Whether the university tribunal’s standard is unanimity or majority vote, the underlying measure is still merely “a preponderance of the evidence” -- a simple “more likely than not” rule that falls far short of the criminal court’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.” And how much less able are the stewards of a college campus, tainted by their aversion to publicity and the potential for self-interest, to adequately discharge the responsibilities of a rape hearing?
A university is on solid ground in respecting the rights of rape victims to choose their forum and to decide where and how and whether they will pursue such matters. But it ought not delude itself into overestimating its abilities nor imagine that it is protecting the campus and wider community by meeting, as it does, behind closed doors. It is undeniably in a terribly difficult position -- balancing the wishes of the victim, the rights of the alleged assailant and the safety of the community -- but it is neither disinterested nor professionally competent to stand in judgment of such matters.
Its responsibilities to the administration of justice, to the well-being of the community and to the safety of other students dictates that it advise rape victims that theirs is not the only interest at stake; that the university is no substitute for criminal court; that the privacy and discretion they gain by allowing the university to handle the matter without the intervention of the courts may be outweighed by the secrecy, caprice and lack of professionalism encountered in a campus hearing; and finally, that there are profound and compelling societal reasons why they should at least consider taking the matter to the police -- namely, that rapists belong behind bars, not on suspension or in the classroom.
Ted Gup is a Boston-based author and journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, National Review and New Republic. Last semester, he taught at both Emerson College and Brown University; this spring, he will be writer in residence at Durham University in Great Britain.
The University of Southern California will bring the University of Pennsylvania's Shaun Harper to campus, as well as several of Penn's initiatives, with big plans for a nationwide campus climate survey.
The American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity on Saturday released a letter urging the U.S. Senate to reject President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general. The group includes many campus diversity and equal opportunity officers, and the letter highlighted a Sessions quote on affirmative action from 1997. At the time, he said, "I think it has, in fact, been a cause of irritation and perhaps has delayed the kind of movement to racial harmony we ought to be going forward [with] today. I think it makes people unhappy if they lost a contract or a right to go to a school or a privilege to attend a university simply because of their race." The diversity group's letter says that Sessions has continued to espouse such views, in particular when rejecting some of President Obama's judicial nominees. This view, the group says, distorts affirmative action in implying that colleges are accepting or rejecting candidates based on race alone.
The University System of Georgia is continuing to merge institutions -- although these mergers typically involve maintaining multiple campuses. The system announced plans last week for two new pairs of institutions to be merged. Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University would be merged under the Georgia Southern name. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and Bainbridge State College would be merged under the Abraham Baldwin name. Details on the plans may be found here.
Some employees at Suffolk University last week found an extra paycheck had been deposited in their bank accounts through direct deposit, The Boston Globe reported. But the university now says that was a mistake and that employees must repay the money. The problem was blamed on a switch in payroll systems.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on Thursday introduced and said he would push legislation -- similar to a controversial North Carolina law -- that would bar public colleges and universities from letting transgender people use multiple-unit bathrooms other than those associated with their biological gender at birth. Patrick is a Republican and his position is a powerful one in Texas. Civil rights groups have vowed to fight the bill and have noted that the North Carolina law has led many organizations to move events outside the state. Further, they note that the law would violate the Obama administration's interpretations of federal law -- although those interpretations currently face court challenges and are likely to be withdrawn by the incoming Trump administration.
Many public colleges and universities nationally permit transgender students to use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities.
Kentucky's State Senate passed a bill Thursday to replace the University of Louisville's Board of Trustees and change the way its members are appointed, echoing an attempt made by Governor Matt Bevin last year that was blocked by a judge and prompted accreditation trouble for the institution.
The bill, which passed with Republican support on a mostly party-line vote, would allow Bevin to appoint a new, 10-member Board of Trustees drawn from a nominating commission's recommendations. Bevin's nominations would then need to be confirmed by the Senate.
The Senate's president, Robert Stivers, introduced the bill, saying it is intended to fix long-running issues at Louisville, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. He added that in the future he intends to introduce a bill requiring Senate confirmation for all state university board members. Democrats, however, said the Louisville measure was being rushed through after it was unexpectedly added to a bill related to dog ownership.
If Kentucky's House of Representatives approves the measure, Bevin could sign it into law right away because of an emergency clause.
The legislation comes after Bevin attempted to reconstitute Louisville's board in June through executive order, a move blocked months later by a judge who called it inconsistent with statutes governing higher education in Kentucky. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges then placed Louisville on probation in December, months after warning that the attempted board changes put the university at risk of falling out of compliance with several standards, including those governing external influence and due process for dismissing board members.
Bevin has appealed the judge's ruling against his executive action. The new legislation's backers said it would nullify the issue. Kentucky's attorney general, who took Bevin to court over the board reconstitution, argued the new bill could cause additional accreditation problems.
Santa Ono, president of the University of British Columbia, this week released a statement apologizing to John Furlong (right) for the cancellation of a speech he was scheduled to give a scholarship fund-raising event. Furlong was CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games and was widely praised for his work to make the event a success. But when word spread that he was going to speak at the UBC event, some First Nations groups (those representing indigenous Canadians) circulated an open letter criticizing the appearance. The letter cited allegations -- which Furlong has denied -- that he was abusive to First Nations children he taught at a school in 1969 and 1970.
Canadian authorities have said that they have investigated the allegations and that they did not result in charges. Many have criticized the university for effectively lending credibility to the allegations by withdrawing the invitation.
Ono's statement said that organizers of the fund-raising events erred in withdrawing the invitation for Furlong to speak.
"UBC made this decision in good faith, but without proper consideration of its potential impact on Mr. Furlong or his family. While this decision was made without my knowledge or that of the UBC Board of Governors, I deeply regret this error and have apologized to Mr. Furlong on behalf of UBC. We do so again here," said Ono. "While some take issue with Mr. Furlong, he also has a great number of supporters in the community, and there can be no question over his record of public service and his extraordinary contributions to amateur sport, to B.C. and to Canada. There is also no question that he deserved better in UBC’s handling of this matter. At root, the university’s decision making throughout this matter did not meet the standard I am eager to instill. While a modern university should neither court nor shy from controversy, our decision making should be the result of a robust deliberative process."