At meeting of state university leaders, varying opinions on free speech in contentious times

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Leaders of state universities hear differing views on how to uphold academic values at a time when many students feel under siege and misunderstood.

Occidental Finds Students Who Destroyed Memorial

Occidental College has announced that it has identified and taken action against students who vandalized a Sept. 11 memorial set up by the campus Republican club. The students planted 2,997 small American flags to honor those killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks -- and others removed the flags and trashed many of them (right).

"Students believed to have been involved in the incident were identified, and the college has taken appropriate action in accordance with the college’s Code of Student Conduct. Federal and state privacy laws prevent the college from disclosing details about the investigation, the findings or the sanctions," said a statement from the college. "The destruction of a memorial is not a form of protected speech. Debate and disagreement at Occidental should be inclusive, not polarizing."

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U of Illinois Backs Budget Deal With Benchmarks

The University of Illinois System is backing a deal proposed by some legislators that could lead to appropriations for system campuses on a regular basis, The Chicago Tribune reported. The deal would require that the university's three campuses meet targets for admitting in-state undergraduates, increasing the availability of student aid and limiting tuition increases to the rate of inflation.

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Students at many colleges reporting ethnic or racial harassment since Election Day

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Many campuses have seen graffiti, taunts and more -- with immigrant, Muslim and minority students as targets -- in last 48 hours. Some see a Trump effect.

U of Alaska Reverses Plan to Cut Skiing, Track

In a reversal, the University of Alaska's president, Jim Johnsen, said Thursday that he will recommend the university's Board of Regents not cut men's and women's skiing and indoor track at two Alaska campuses.

Johnsen had originally proposed eliminating the sports at the university's Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses in an attempt to save money. Johnsen's plan was to create a consortium of the two Division II colleges, essentially creating one athletic program across two campuses. In doing so, Johnsen proposed cutting men's and women's indoor track and men's and women's skiing at the University of Anchorage, as well as skiing at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, meaning Anchorage would be below the 10 teams required to remain in Division II. Johnsen requested a waiver from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but the NCAA said it would not consider such a request until the teams were actually eliminated.

"We know that such a step would risk a wide variety of financial and programmatic NCAA sanctions," Johnsen said in a statement Thursday. "As a result of this nonresponse from the NCAA, I will recommend to the Board of Regents that we not reduce teams at this time."

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North Dakota Eliminates State Authorization Office

The North Dakota University System has eliminated the office that authorizes colleges to issue degrees in the state, either on-site or via distance education. A spokeswoman for the system confirmed the move via email, saying there had been a reduction in force due to budgetary constraints. She said the duties would be reassigned.

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Three cabinet secretaries urge colleges to support more veterans (essay)

Jeff Bell enrolled in college right out of high school but soon dropped out and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He quickly earned commendations and promotions for his work in the highly sensitive job of keeping U.S. nuclear assets secure. But then he was diagnosed with a medical condition that made him ineligible for his position. He soon left the military and eventually found work as a dealer and then a pit boss at a casino in Arizona. The money was good, but something was missing. He felt adrift.

Nearly two decades later, he learned he was still eligible for military educational benefits and was advised to check out the programs and support for veterans at Arizona State University. There, the Pat Tillman Veterans Center provided him with just what he needed: tutoring, coaching on his writing, help with his benefits and just a place to stop by and get a cup of coffee as he adjusted to studying side by side with students who were more than 20 years younger. He graduated in May at the age of 44, with a biology degree and, thanks to help from center staff, started working the next month in the Santa Fe National Forest as a recreation specialist for the U.S. Forest Service.

America began providing veterans with tuition assistance via the G.I. Bill after World War II. That commitment to help veterans gain the skills and credentials employers want was renewed in 2008 with the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. To date, that legislation has provided 1.6 million people with a total of $68 billion in education benefits. But over time, we’ve learned that veterans -- who tend to be older, have families, may have a disability or may simply need to brush up on skills they learned in high school -- need more than financial assistance. And some educational institutions are better equipped to meet those needs than others.

That is why, on Nov. 11, in recognition of Veterans Day, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum that directs our agencies to work together to do more to help veterans identify institutions best able to help them, and also to hold colleges accountable for treating veterans, their spouses and eligible family members fairly.

Fulfilling the nation’s promises to its veterans has been a priority for President Obama ever since he took office. At his direction, the Department of Veterans Affairs created the GI Bill Comparison Tool so that veterans could compare the cost and outcomes of different schools. In addition, the Department of Defense began offering workshops to help veterans and their families transition to civilian life and access higher education. And several thousand institutions subscribed to the administration’s principles of excellence, agreeing to avoid misleading recruiting practices and deliver high-quality academic and student support services.

The new memorandum requires us to begin providing college-by-college data on veterans’ student debt and repayment rates. We will seek to expand an apprentice program that allows active-duty service members to obtain credentials and certificates. We also will launch a new pilot program to test the effectiveness of personalized tools and counseling. And, across the administration, we will do more to detect and hold colleges accountable for misleading recruitment practices.

Colleges and universities such as Arizona State University are leading the way. Syracuse University, for example, established the Institute for Veterans and Military Families to focus on social, economic, education and policy issues affecting veterans and their families. San Diego State University’s Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center provides military-affiliated veterans with one-stop shopping. The Troops to Engineers and SERVICE (Success in Engineering for Recent Veterans through Internship and Career Experience) programs at various higher education institutions help veterans earn engineering degrees and secure internships at major companies. Columbia University has a Military in Business Association and offers academic programs designed for veterans.

The administration’s Eight Keys to Veterans’ Success spells out other ways colleges and universities can voluntarily support veterans. Las Positas College in California is one of over 2,100 institutions to endorse the keys. The college maintains a comprehensive Veterans Resource Center that addresses veterans’ academic, career, financial and health-related challenges. (To learn more about the Eight Keys to Veterans’ Success, click on link or e-mail

On this Veterans Day, we must remember that post-9/11 veterans took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States out of a sense of duty and love for country. But they also realized that their service could lead to greater opportunities, including a college degree. One way to thank them for their service is to support them as they pursue their education.

Ashton B. Carter is U.S. secretary of defense. John B. King Jr. is U.S. secretary of education. Robert A. McDonald is U.S. secretary of veterans affairs.

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Bennington College's experiment with short-term, pop-up courses

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Bennington College’s pop-up courses allow professors and students to tackle world events as they happen.

Wisconsin Bans Nooses From Stadium

The University of Wisconsin at Madison on Wednesday announced that it was banning fans from bringing nooses and ropes to its football stadium. The university promised rule changes following an incident in which two fans brought a noose and a mask of President Obama to pretend to lynch him. Many students and faculty members said that there should have been rules in place to prevent the incident.

The university also announced these rules: "Any person who engages in violent, threatening, abusive or otherwise disorderly conduct which tends to provoke a disturbance or incite violence will be ejected from our events. Threats include statements, actions and behaviors that could reasonably be foreseen as having a purpose to inflict physical harm, even if the person making the threat doesn't have the ability to carry out the threat. Disorderly conduct does not require that a disruption actually occur. Any spectator carrying a prohibited item may be refused admittance or may be ejected from the venue."

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University of California Affirms Support for Diversity

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, along with system chancellors, issued a statement on the election results Wednesday that did not mention Donald Trump by name but affirmed support for diversity.

"In light of yesterday's election results, we know there is understandable consternation and uncertainty among members of the University of California community," the statement said. "The University of California is proud of being a diverse and welcoming place for students, faculty and staff with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Diversity is central to our mission. We remain absolutely committed to supporting all members of our community and adhering to UC’s Principles Against Intolerance."

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