Mandatory leaves for mental health conditions raise discrimination concerns

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Recent court cases, including a discrimination settlement at Quinnipiac University, suggest that colleges have to consider alternatives to forcing a student with a mental health condition to withdraw. 

Higher Ed and Guests at State of the Union

President Obama, like many presidents over the last 25 or so years, invites selected guests -- whose stories reflect administration priorities --  to sit with the First Lady during the State of the Union address. This year there are several higher education connections. Chelsey Davis (at right) is a student at Pellissippi State Community College at a time when President Obama is pushing a plan to make two years of community college free. Bill Elder is a medical student and a Stanford University graduate who was never expected to reach adulthood because of his cystic fibrosis. His story, the White House says, reflects the value of medical research and education. Also reflecting an emphasis on education is Anthony Mendez, the first in his family to graduate from high school and now a freshman at the University of Hartford. And Ana Zamora is a "DREAM" student, among those brought to the country at a young age but lacking permanent legal status, although they have gained some new rights under the Obama administration.

Members of Congress also get guest seats. New York Magazine reported that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, is bringing Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who protested campus policies on sexual assault by dragging a mattress with her for an entire semester. Sulkowicz says that the mattress symbolizes the weight she carries because of the university's failure to punish the student she says raped her. (He denies that.)




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A Basketball Team's Expensive Trip to the Bahamas

The University of Kentucky spent nearly $800,000 on a trip to the Bahamas for the basketball team to play exhibition games, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported. While other colleges spend big on exhibition games in the Bahamas, the Kentucky travels cost much more than similar trips by other universities' teams that the newspaper found cost $154,000 or $38,000. Why were the Kentucky costs so high? The university didn't only pay for its own travel, but for the travel and expenses of the three teams it played: national teams of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket, a French professional team. The Courier-Journal reported that this practice of paying for opposing teams' travel was a new one for American college basketball.

There were other costs as well. Coach John Calipari, for example, had a $1,550-per night hotel suite.


NCAA Restores Penn State's Wins Under Paterno

As part of a court settlement, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has restored the 112 wins it previously vacated at Pennsylvania State University following former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's conviction on 45 counts of child abuse in 2012. Nearly all of the wins took place under the late Joe Paterno, a revered coach at Penn State and a key figure in the Sandusky scandal. The NCAA vacated the wins as part of a series of sanctions that also included suspending the university from participating in postseason games and fining the institution $60 million.

That fine became the focus of a lawsuit, which was originally meant to determine where the penalty should be spent but gradually became a referendum on the NCAA's authority to impose sanctions in the first place. The NCAA has since walked back many of the sanctions, including ending Penn State's postseason ban in September, two years earlier than what the punishment called for. "Today is a victory for the Penn State nation," Jake Corman, a Pennsylvania senator, told Reuters. "The NCAA has surrendered."

In a statement Friday, the NCAA said the agreement reaffirms its authority to act, and that the $60 million fine will be used to support child abuse prevention and treatment programs. "Continuing this litigation would further delay the distribution of funds to child sexual abuse survivors for years, undermining the very intent of the fine,” said Harris Pastides, president at the University of South Carolina and the new Division I Board of Directors chair. “While others will focus on the return of wins, our top priority is on protecting, educating, and nurturing young people.”

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Board Pushes Out President of North Carolina System

The University of North Carolina's Board of Governors announced Friday that Thomas G. Ross would leave his job as the system's president early next year, and its failure to explain the reasons for Ross's departure prompted assertions that he was forced out. Ross was appointed president in 2010, just as Republicans first began making significant gains in North Carolina's traditionally Democratically controlled legislature. When Republicans took control of both houses of the legislature in 2012, the university -- and Ross as its leader -- faced intense scrutiny from lawmakers who believed UNC had been treated with kid gloves by Democratic politicians.

In the last year, he appeared to have weathered the political pressure and to have begun to persuade the new Republican majority of UNC's importance to the state economy, even as a series of controversies buffeted the university. The joint statement from the university and Ross said that his departure had nothing to do with his performance, but board leaders insisted that it had nothing to do with politics, either.

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Colorado State U. Pueblo Sued for Alleged First Amendment Violations

A tenured professor of sociology at Colorado State University at Pueblo is suing the institution for allegedly violating his free speech rights as he tried to organize protests over planned layoffs, the Denver Post reported. Tim McGettigan, the professor, says that his email and computer access were blocked in January 2014, after the university announced it was planning to shed 50 faculty and staff members – and after McGettigan emerged as a key critic of the move. In the lawsuit, McGettigan also alleges the university’s computer access policy -- which bans the creation, storage or transmission of content that Pueblo “may deem to be offensive, indecent or obscene” – is unconstitutional. Elizabeth Wang, McGettigan’s attorney, said the professor is still barred from sending group distribution emails. A university spokesman declined to comment on any pending litigation.

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President Obama wants to overhaul education tax credits and simply taxes for Pell recipients

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President will seek big changes in education tax credits, and will propose new taxes on the wealthy and on financial institutions to pay for free community college tuition.


Deep Cuts in Louisiana Could Force Campus Closures

Likely budget cuts to public higher education in Louisiana could be so deep that they would force the closures of some college campuses, The Times-Picayune reported. The administration of Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, projects cuts of $200 million to $300 million, but many legislators are predicting even larger cuts. The Times-Picayune noted that $300 million is roughly the size of public support for Louisiana's community and technical college system. And the figure is about one third of the operating budget of the Louisiana State University System.


College athletes to have voting power in all NCAA divisions

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With legislation giving athletes the ability to vote on NCAA rules, "the voice of the student-athlete" is a focus of several discussions at the group's convention.

'No Confidence' in Alabama-Birmingham President

The Faculty Senate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham voted no confidence Thursday in the leadership of President Ray Watts, reported. Faculty members said Watts had failed to consult them in a much debated decision to eliminate the football program and also in other matters. But just hours after the vote, board members expressed strong support for Watts.


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