Defining common characteristics of successful postsecondary CEOs (essay)

After a year studying presidents and chancellors, Scott Newman describes the characteristics he believes help college and university chief executives succeed.

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U of Tennessee pulls controversial holiday guidance

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U of Tennessee responds to intense criticism of its advice -- and of its diversity efforts.

Liberty U Defends President's Call to Arms

Liberty University issued a response to criticism of Jerry Falwell Jr., the university's president, who attracted widespread attention for convocation remarks Friday in which he encouraged students to register to carry concealed weapons. The university statement denied that, when Falwell said it was important to "end those Muslims," he was talking about all Muslims. The statement said he was talking about "the Muslim terrorists who attacked innocents in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris, France. He also clarified that he was in no way referring to the many good and honorable Muslims who do not come into public spaces armed to kill innocents. When hearing the remarks in their full context, the public can see that there was no attempt to incite hate against anyone, much less all Muslims."

The statement noted that Liberty adopted its policy of allowing people to carry concealed weapons after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, which is not far from Liberty. "His remarks were a call to arms for self-defense and a criticism of political leaders who see the answer to such tragedies as more gun control. More gun control leads to more places and circumstances where innocents are unarmed and unable to defend themselves," said the university statement.

Liberty also released on Monday an essay by Daniel Howell, a biology professor at the university, answering those who expressed shock that the president of a Christian university would encourage students to become armed. "Unbelievers and others lacking knowledge about the true character of God sometimes refer to Christ’s moniker as the Prince of Peace to conclude Christianity must be a wimpy, defenseless teaching," wrote Howell. "Of course, this is one of many titles for Jesus, another being the Lion of Judah. While Jesus was exceptionally mild and meek at his first coming, we are assured by Scripture that he will not be so at his second coming. He is described in Revelation 19 as the king of kings who leads the armies of heaven on a white horse and utterly destroys his enemies with the word of his mouth (visualized there as a sword). In a world littered with violence, the Prince of Peace knows that real tranquility is only obtained through strength."

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Cal State Faculty Object to New Background Check Policy

A growing number of institutions are seeking to require background checks for employees, but a policy for the California State University System has the faculty asking to put it on hold, according to the Los Angeles Times. The policy for all new hires took effect in August and requires criminal records checks as well as verification of past employment, education and references. Credit checks also could be part of the deal for some candidates. While current employees are generally exempt from the new policy, some who change jobs within the system could be subjected to it, along with student workers and consultants. 

In a resolution last month, the systemwide Academic Senate asked Chancellor Timothy P. White to suspend the new policy and establish a task force to examine how background checks are to be used in hiring decisions across the 23 campuses. In light of faculty concerns about privacy and fears that the policy could drive away qualified candidates, administrators have said they'll monitor how the policy is working. But they haven't suspended it. They're also pointing out that the policy already has uncovered one faculty applicant’s past conviction of a lewd conduct involving a minor.

Lori Lamb, vice chancellor for human resources, told the Times, "This is exactly the reason we have this policy. … I would hate to be in my job and have something negative happen to a student or visitor and then learn a person had a conviction for that.” Lamb said the policy was developed over a two-year period with the input of the faculty union, but that they the Academic Senate is invited to participate in the monitoring process. Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania court blocked the State System of Higher Education's attempts to begin background checks for all employees as a policy that must go through collective bargaining with the faculty union, pending review by a state labor board. (Note: This story has been corrected from a previous version to note that the background check policy was not put on hold, despite the Academic Senate's request.)

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Report Highlights Faculty Conditions at Jesuit Colleges

Jesuit colleges and universities are increasingly reliant on part-time faculty members who earn relatively low pay for a growing workload, and even tenured faculty members at such institutions feel overworked and undervalued, according to a new report from Faculty Forward Network, a partner organization with and supported by Service Employees International Union. The report comes ahead of protests over faculty working conditions on numerous Jesuit college and university campuses, planned for Dec. 10. Findings include that the percentage of Jesuit institution faculty members working as adjuncts has grown from 47 percent to 57 percent over 10 years, outpacing the rate of part-time faculty growth on four-year campuses generally. Some 15 percent of non-tenure-track faculty respondents to the Faculty Forward Network survey on which the study is based said they’ve earned so little while working at a Jesuit institution that they’ve received public assistance of some kind. And 44 percent of respondents said their workload had increased over the past five years -- in many cases due to increased administrative responsibilities; some 58 percent of tenured faculty members are so overloaded with work that they worry they cannot sufficiently support students.

Over all, one in three faculty members at Jesuit institutions do not feel supported or valued by their college or university, according to the report. The Faculty Forward Network obtained 353 responses to its survey from Jesuit institution professors over the summer, representing 89 percent of all Jesuit institutions. Some 40 percent of respondents were tenured or tenure track. SEIU is seeking to organize adjunct faculty unions on a number of Catholic college and university campuses, some of which have fought that union’s and others’ efforts in light of legal precedents against collective bargaining at religiously affiliated institutions. The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities has stayed neutral on the issue of adjunct unions on its member campuses, and Paula Moore, a spokeswoman for the organization, said it had no immediate comment on the report.

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Fired U of Southern California Coach Sues University for Discrimination

Steve Sarkisian, the former head football coach of the University of Southern California who was fired in October after he appeared to be intoxicated at a game and during team meetings, sued the university Monday, alleging that he was discriminated against on the basis of a disability.

In the lawsuit, Sarkisian's lawyers argue that the university breached the football coach's contract when it dismissed him while he was seeking treatment for alcoholism. Sarkisian is suing for unspecified damages, as well as the $12.6 million left on his contract. "Instead of supporting its head coach, Steve Sarkisian, when he needed its help the most, USC kicked him to the curb," the suit states. "Instead of honoring the contract it made with Steve Sarkisian, USC kicked him to the curb. Instead of accommodating Steve Sarkisian's disability, USC kicked him to the curb."

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer is not required to accommodate an employee's intoxication or the effects of excessive use of alcohol. It is required to accommodate an employee's seeking of treatment, however. In a statement Monday, the university said it does not comment on pending litigation.

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Are colleges obligated to protect students from crimes by other students? (essay)

Recently, as violent attacks and tragic deaths occurred at colleges in Alabama, Arizona, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas, a California Court of Appeal ruled that public colleges and universities have no general legal obligation to protect adult students from the criminal acts of other students.

The case was brought by Katherine Rosen, a 20-year-old pre-med student, who was brutally stabbed in a University of California at Los Angeles chemistry lab by another student. She argued the university breached its duty of care by failing to take reasonable steps to protect her from foreseeable violence.

Rosen’s lawyers have vowed to bring the case to the California Supreme Court. Whether or not the case is accepted, it is noteworthy beyond California because it comes at a time of renewed national discussion of gun control and violence on campus.

Perhaps most surprising about the 2 to 1 decision is that Rosen’s claim was dismissed by the court as a matter of law. The court determined that the issues were so clear that a jury did not need to determine the facts -- even though doctors at the campus hospital had earlier diagnosed the student who inflicted Rosen’s injuries as suffering from paranoid delusions and possible schizophrenia, and he was in ongoing treatment in a university outpatient facility. (He was later found not guilty of the crime by reason of insanity.)

In reaching the conclusion that the legal issue was free from doubt, the court opined that the foreseeability of the crime made no difference: “Colleges and universities … are not liable for the criminal wrongdoing of mentally ill third parties, regardless of whether such conduct might be in some sense foreseeable.” [Emphasis added.] The court provided the rationale for this statement in a footnote where it conjectured that imposing a duty of protection might cause some colleges to reduce or eliminate mental-health services, or to disregard the privacy rights of the mentally ill, to avoid liability.

The logic of the Rosen case comes from a line of earlier California cases (none involving mental illness) where courts made a clear demarcation between K-12 schools -- with young students, mandatory attendance and a rigidly controlled environment -- and the college or university setting, with adult students who since the 1960s have demanded the right to regulate and control their own lives.

In loco parentis has all but disappeared, and the court in Rosen concluded that reimposing the level of authority and control necessary to protect against third-party criminal conduct is “incompatible with the ‘realities of modern college life’ and the ‘goal[s] of postsecondary education.’ … We find no basis to depart from the settled ‘rule that institutions of higher education have no duty to their adult students to protect them against the criminal acts of third persons.’” Rather, the court found that colleges and universities are microcosms of the outside world, where violence can occur anywhere and everywhere, and students are responsible for protecting themselves.

Yet a powerful dissenting opinion in Rosen criticizes this all-or-nothing approach to student protection, highlighting a separate line of California cases that have carved out an exception to the no-duty rule. These cases all involved college sports (described as a “core” function), where the courts have found that higher education institutions have sufficient supervision and control over students to create a legal obligation to protect them.

The dissent argues that if colleges and universities have a duty to safeguard students on the ball field, then surely they must also have that responsibility in the most “core” of college activities: where students are in a classroom or laboratory under the active supervision of a faculty member. The dissent also draws attention to brochures and other promotional materials that reassure students and parents that UCLA is a safe environment.

A Difficult Balance

Weighing the social benefits of imposing or rejecting a special duty to protect students against the social costs is vexing. On the one side, those who concur with the ruling have argued that violence is part of the human condition and impossible to predict, no matter how professional or sophisticated threat assessments have become. Colleges and universities already have their own incentives not to become the site of the next tragedy and have taken a variety of voluntary proactive measures to reduce criminal violence and protect students from harm. They should not be punished when, despite good faith efforts, they get it wrong.

Were colleges required to more strictly control the behavior of students with mental illness, or other markers that suggest potential misbehavior, they would surely be liable under antidiscrimination laws. In addition, out of an abundance of caution, they would most likely overregulate -- or punish -- those who are “different” or unfairly deprive them of their right to pursue an education at the institution of their choice.

Students with mental illness might avoid seeking help for fear that disclosing troubling thoughts or fantasies to anyone at the college or university would provoke unwanted campus attention and response. Ironically, that would only worsen the situation and increase the risk of violence on campuses.

On the other side, others contend that colleges and universities should not automatically be excused from liability for third-party misconduct. Such institutions have the power to establish rules of conduct for the campus community; to hire, train and empower personnel; and to impose sanctions and restrictions. While college students are adults, they are still psychologically vulnerable and must depend on institutional safety measures, such as campus police and judicial affairs. Colleges gather students in large open spaces -- classrooms, libraries, lounges and plazas -- where they are exposed to acts of violence. Colleges may not have ubiquitous power to protect students from every violent act, but they should be responsible when -- through action or inaction -- they make matters worse.

Irrespective of the ultimate outcome in Rosen, no one should read the current ruling as permission for any college or university to relax or move away from measures to keep its campus safe. The opinion states: “Colleges and universities may properly adopt policies and provide student services that reduce the likelihood such incidents will occur on their campuses …” [Emphasis added.]

Already, an explosion of federal rules and regulations impose safety responsibilities on colleges and universities:

  • The Campus Safety (Clery) Act requires publication of detailed reports on campus crime and security measures, and preventative education.
  • Title IX prohibits sex discrimination (including toleration of sexual violence) and requires swift response to claims and campuswide preventative education.
  • The Drug-Free Schools Act requires regular distribution and review of drug and alcohol prevention policies.
  • The Higher Education Opportunity Act requires notice of emergencies and missing students and publication and testing of emergency response procedures.
  • The Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act requires notification of information on enrolled sex offenders.

And these are just a few -- the list goes on.

Colleges and universities today must take steps to enhance student security -- whether as a matter of legal or moral responsibility. They must have thoughtful written policies for students who present a threat of danger to the campus community. They must develop detailed plans for the management of threats and actual violence, and they must follow those plans to the letter. They should train and retrain people with responsibility under the policies.

Higher education institutions should also nurture an institutional culture of community responsibility, encouraging anyone with concerns about potentially dangerous students to come forward. They should make sure every student, faculty member and staff person knows where to go to report his or her concerns. They should organize an interdisciplinary team -- with mental health professionals, residence hall supervisors, faculty, police, campus lawyers and other campus administrators -- to meet regularly, share information, coordinate, evaluate and manage troublesome cases, and empower the team to take swift action.

Colleges and universities should not be held responsible for what they cannot prevent. They are institutions of higher learning, not insurers of student safety. But the bar for what institutions must do to prevent violence, protect students and manage complicated situations is set quite high. The Rosen ruling does not change that.

Christine Helwick is former general counsel for the California State University system and now advises college and university clients at Hirschfeld Kraemer.

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Security Guards Punched U of Houston Fans

The University of Houston has severed ties with a security company whose employees were videotaped punching students and other fans who rushed the field after a football win on Saturday, The Houston Chronicle reported. University of Houston President Renu Khator told the newspaper she was “very shocked, disappointed and literally outraged” about the incidents, which were filmed and posted to social media (one of the videos is below). Devan Schulz, chief operating officer of Contemporary Services Corporation, the security company involved, said the company “is aware of the events” and is conducting its own investigation.

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Colleges increase security at football stadiums, basketball arenas

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Following recent shootings in U.S. and terrorist attacks in Paris, some colleges and universities are adopting stricter security policies for sporting events.

Liberty U President Urges Students to Get Guns

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, on Friday urged students to buy and carry guns (and to learn how to use them). Speaking at the university's weekly convocation, Falwell said he was upset that President Obama and others have reacted to the killings in California by promoting gun control. He said fewer people might have been killed if some of the victims had "what I've got in my back pocket right now," adding that "if more good people had concealed" weapons, "we could end those Muslims" before they killed anyone. He said he wanted to "encourage all of you to get your permit" to carry concealed weapons. "Let's teach 'em a lesson if they ever show up here," Falwell said.

Amid criticism from some that he was implying that Muslims as a general group should be killed, Falwell has said that he was talking about those who recently killed people in France and California, not all members of that faith.

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