Protest Against Interim Michigan State President

Michigan State University leadership continues to come under fire after a former state governor, John Engler, was appointed interim president, with faculty, students and staff marching in protest Tuesday.

Protesters called on Engler to resign, delivering a letter to Michigan State’s offices of the president and provost and the Board of Trustees. They were unhappy students and faculty members did not have a say in the board’s decision to appoint Engler as interim president while a search for a new permanent president is conducted.

The letter also called for the board to use faculty input in quickly hiring someone with an academic background to be Michigan State’s permanent president. And it called for the university to create a process to support those who were abused over the years by former faculty member and doctor Larry Nassar.

More than 200 people marched to the university’s administration building Tuesday morning, according to the Lansing State Journal. The crowd cheered calls for Engler and trustees to resign.

A spokesman argued that Engler had been on the job for roughly 36 hours, hoping protesters would judge the new interim president based on the decisions he makes.

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Few institutions charging students extra fees for counseling services

Though University of Texas at Austin called getting rid of fees for counseling "a new investment" in mental health, few institutions charge students for these visits.

Accreditors tighten scrutiny of low graduation rates

Regional accreditors weigh in on graduation rates with an analysis of colleges with low rates, but the agencies argue against using a "bright-line" approach.

What the film 'Get Out' reflects about college football (opinion)

National signing day, one of college football’s most exciting events, is rapidly approaching. Tomorrow many of the nation’s most talented high school football players will announce where they plan to play collegiate football and pursue their undergraduate studies.

Many of these young men will hold press conferences in their high school gyms to announce their choice and sign contracts affirming their commitments. Other recruits will opt instead to release professionally produced videos to reveal their college choice. The day will culminate with college administrators, coaches and fans gathering to celebrate the harvest of athletic talent they have reaped. For college football fans, national signing day is a national holiday.

By now, a significant portion of America will have seen Jordan Peele’s Oscar-nominated film Get Out. It is after all, a suitably hip way for viewers to digest the experience of black people in America. Those same people who watched Peele’s film present an unflinching narrative of the ruthless exploitation of black bodies should be mindful of such themes during national signing day. They should consider the optics: young men of superior athleticism, a disproportionate number of whom are black and poor, will be treated like royalty by colleges and universities. But were it not for their athletic talent, they would be invisible to those same institutions.

This first-class treatment of such young men is dispensed because their physical labor secures winning records for collegiate athletic programs, provides million-dollar salaries for their future coaches and supports the billion-dollar industry that benefits athletic departments, college administrators, alumni donors and many other university elites. In many instances, these amateur athletes will do that while being significantly underrepresented in the student body’s overall racial makeup. They will be perceived as athletes on the campus rather than students. It will be, sadly, a university’s ownership of their body that ensures these young men access to the institution, not their intellectual potential.

Research by Shaun Harper, a professor at the University of Southern California, illuminates the harsh reality that black college football players, in particular, have consistently earned college degrees at lower rates than the overwhelming majority of their peers, athletes and nonathletes alike. After retiring, Walter Byers, the founding executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, famously criticized what he called a neo-plantation mentality that exists within many high-level college athletic programs. Such a mentality ultimately maintains a structure where the bulk of the financial gains go to the administrators and coaches, leaving next to nothing for the actual athletes.

In Get Out, Peele offers a brilliant challenge to the use of black bodies -- one that should also be applied to the college sports system. To recap, the film tells the story of Chris, a young black man whose white girlfriend, Rose, plots to have him kidnapped as part of a larger scheme that involves transplanting the brains of elderly white people into young black bodies so that they can experience a vitality that they presume only comes from such bodies. The parallels to college football are unmistakable: it is a system where wealthy and predominantly white coaches are in constant pursuit of young, talented and athletic bodies for their respective programs. Upon attaining that talent, the larger college community will then live vicariously through the toil of those athletes -- the sacrificial lambs of the religion of college football.

In one of the final scenes of the film, Rose, the antagonist, sits eerily in front of her laptop searching the web for future victims using the search phrase “top NCAA prospects.” As a black man and former college athlete, the scene had me uncomfortably shifting in my seat. It served as a vivid reminder of the far too many college athletic programs that resemble “the sunken place,” a place referred to in the film where a victim’s voice is silenced and their consciousness held captive while their bodies are used to benefit others. Former Ohio State University football player Cardale Jones's experience in 2015 highlighted this reality in a very public way. After Jones tweeted a simple question relating to the national conversation about police brutality, he was swiftly told to shut up and focus on winning Ohio State fans another football championship.

Watching the film in a theater, the collective hope of the audience for Chris to escape his plight was palpable. He outstrategized his captors and eventually saved his own life. How can life imitate art within the world of college football so that college football players are more than just bodies for hire?

Perhaps we can start by paying attention to the track record of coaches. While there is no perfect predictor, these three statistics offer suggestions for how a coach has fared as a leader of the field.

Transfer rates. This information is a simple Google search away and a reliable data point for determining the general experience of football players at a given institution. If the program has had a consistent stream of early departures, it may indicate that the promises made in the recruitment process do not match up to the real experience, and it is likely a sunken place.

Graduation rates. This is another reliable predictor of whether bodies are prioritized over minds. It gives insight into how much of a student a football player or other athlete is allowed and encouraged to be.

Course and major clustering rates. A number of football programs make publicly available the academic majors of their football players and student athletes. And it is far too often the case that college athletes are pressured into only pursuing specific classes or academic majors that are perceived as providing the least amount of distraction and resistance to their athletic identity. Recruits will do themselves a favor by scanning the rosters to see how much academic diversity actually exists. Can they pursue a major that they are truly interested in rather than one that will simply keep them eligible? As they look over the roster, if it appears that many of the football players are pursuing the same major, it may, in fact, be a sunken place.

The parallels between Get Out and the college football recruiting process serve as warnings to young black football players in the process of choosing a college or university. They should understand that they are entering into a system where people who look like them will be disproportionately overrepresented on the field and severely underrepresented on the academic sidelines. As it stands, just over 10 percent of college head football coaches are black, while on average 57 percent of college football players are black. Acknowledging this reality -- and that college football has historically created a minefield for black men -- might save them from making the wrong decision, namely missing out on a genuine college education.

Though rarer, there are institutions with collegiate athletics programs that are focused on creating a learning environment where the whole person can be developed. Potential college athletes would do well to narrow their choices to only include those institutions.

Over all, if university administrators and faculty members were aware of the inner workings of their respective institutions' college sports programs, many of the current problems would not persist. Increased transparency and accounting of how student athletes are faring outside competition can help faculty and administrators determine if their athletic programs' mission and values are in alignment with the overall institution's.

College sport fans as well can see the message of Get Out as an opportunity to create change. If they really care, they can demand just treatment of student athletes or refuse to buy tickets or merchandise until that changes. Better yet, they could look at national signing day for what it is in many instances: a harvesting of young black bodies for the benefit of others.

The exploitation of Chris and the film’s other black characters in Get Out is a narrative device designed to frighten and horrify. But the harnessing of the black body is an everyday reality in revenue-generating college athletics.

Solomon Hughes has served as an academic adviser for student athletes at Stanford University and the University of Georgia. As an undergraduate, he attended the University of California, Berkeley, and was a member of the men's basketball team.

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White supremacist group angers many at Colorado State and University of Tennessee


At Colorado State, skirmishes follow a speech, and anger follows anti-immigrant posters. At Tennessee, concerns arise over a room booked under apparently false pretenses. Colorado State president issues statement saying, "A Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi."

Maine Suspends Second Professor

The University of Maine confirmed Friday that it placed a second professor on paid leave over unspecified concerns. Maine suspended Robert “Tony” Brinkley, professor of English, last month after receiving “complaints from students,” Margaret Nagle, university spokesperson, told the Bangor Daily News. An investigation is ongoing. Nagle declined further comment, citing student and faculty privacy rights. Brinkley declined comment. Also last week, Maine said that it had placed Tom Mikotowicz, professor of music, on leave over student complaints in December.

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Report on Making Apprenticeships Work

Amid increasing bipartisan interest in expanding apprenticeship opportunities in this country, a new report from the University Ventures Fund includes policy recommendations for how to best harness new federal investment in the space. Ryan Craig, the investment firm's managing director, wrote the white paper with Tom Bewick, president of the Transatlantic Apprenticeship Exchange Forum and co-founder of Franklin Apprenticeships.

The authors' recommendations include:

  • Shift the mind-set to digital apprenticeships by bringing emerging and fast-growing industries to the table;
  • Formalize and incentivize the role of apprenticeship service providers;
  • Clarify federal funding for apprenticeship programs;
  • Build apprenticeships at the industry level, rather than one employer at a time; and
  • Encourage the public sector to lead by example by implementing government apprenticeship programs.
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Costs Mount for Federal Loan Programs

The increasing popularity of income-driven repayment plans for federal loans, as well as loan forgiveness programs, might soon lead to the federal government losing money on its huge student loan portfolio, according to a newly released audit from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General.

The audit builds on findings from a 2016 Government Accountability Office report, which revealed that the department had drastically underestimated the cost of income-driven repayment.

Between the 2011 and 2015 fiscal years, for example, the balance of this form of loan increased from $7.1 billion to $51.5 billion, the inspector general's audit found, an increase of 625 percent. Under income-based repayment, the federal government will loan more money than borrowers will repay, which isn't the case for other types of loans. As a result, the government subsidy for income-driven repayment plans increased to $11.5 billion in 2015 from $1.4 billion in 2011, according to the audit. And at this pace, the feds may soon lend more money overall than is being repaid by borrowers.

The department's Federal Student Aid office told the inspector general that "as more borrowers select IDR plans that allow for student loan forgiveness, the cost of this form of nonpayment could be a major issue for the federal government. In addition, FSA stated that the timing and potential magnitude of loan forgiveness programs create uncertain repayment terms that could pose significant challenges in managing its student loan portfolio."

Bar chart: Figure 1. Direct loan program total subsidy cost for fiscal years 2011 to 2015 cohorts. Chart breaks down subsidies between income-driven repayment plans and all others and shows the total rising from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2015.

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Caltech Harasser Finds New Academic Home, in Finland

Christian Ott, a professor of theoretical astrophysics who resigned from the California Institute of Technology last year after he was found to have harassed two female graduate students, has a new academic home at the University of Turku in Finland. And many who have been following his case and the academic #metoo movement in general aren’t happy about it.

Turku addressed the controversy in a statement last week, saying that it has “a policy of zero tolerance towards harassment and bullying.” Turku considered Caltech’s findings but nevertheless recruited Ott due to “strong evidence of his scientific merits, of which several statements were received,” it said.

Ott will work as a senior researcher without teaching or supervising responsibilities on a two-year contract with a four-month trial period. Ott was suspended from Caltech before he resigned, after an investigation found that he’d become infatuated with a graduate student and then fired her for it. He confided in a second student about the situation. Scientists responded to Turku’s news on Twitter, pointing to a disconnect between its stated no-tolerance policy and Ott’s past. Others said that while Ott had been given a second chance, those whose careers he'd affected were not so lucky. Ott could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Nebraska AAUP Leader Says She Can't Defend Grad Student

A faculty member at the University of Nebraska at Omaha resigned last week as president of the state conference of the American Association of University Professors, saying she couldn’t defend a graduate student and former lecturer, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Courtney Lawton, a graduate student in English at the Lincoln campus, was removed from the classroom as a lecturer last semester after she was recorded protesting an on-campus recruiting table for Turning Point USA, the conservative group behind Professor Watchlist. The incident, in which Lawton made an obscene gesture to an undergraduate, led state Republican legislators to question campus climates and criticize Lincoln’s English department, in particular.

The AAUP has largely defended Lawton’s right to due process and academic freedom until now. But Donna Dufner, an associate professor of information systems and quantitative analysis at Omaha who took over as state conference president on Jan. 1, said she could not support the graduate student. “I couldn’t represent the AAUP in the Lawton case because I kept coming down on the side of the administration,” she told the World-Herald. AAUP’s national office is currently investigating the situation at Lincoln for alleged violations of academic freedom.

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