New organization to study ways to improve mental health services for students of color

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The family of a black Harvard graduate who committed suicide creates an organization in his honor that seeks to "improve the support for the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color."

Two Tomas Lindahls, One Nobel Prize

Friends and colleagues of Tomas Lindahl, a professor of microbiology at Sweden’s Linkoping University, rushed to congratulate him on winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry earlier this week, but it was a case of mistaken identity. The real winner was another Tomas Lindahl, also Swedish, who works at the Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory in London. (His prize-winning research centers on how cells repair their DNA.)

The two have been mixed up by fellow scientists for decades, but the confusion reached its peak when friends of the Sweden-based Lindahl deluged him with emails and the local government in Linkoping sent out a congratulatory press release before quickly withdrawing it, the Associated Press reported. The mistaken winner reportedly was in good spirits, telling a local newspaper that “it's sort of fun actually. To be mixed up with a Nobel Prize winner when I'm doing research in chemistry myself.” Referring to December’s Nobel banquet, he added, “But it would be really nice to go to the party.”

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Threat Leads Eastern Kentucky to Call Off Classes

Eastern Kentucky University called off classes midday Wednesday and for the rest of the week, based on a threat found in a bathroom (see photo from university police at right). The university is also relocating a football game tonight against Tennessee Tech University to the campus of Georgetown College, in Kentucky. Details from the university's public safety officers and senior administrators may be found here.

Meanwhile, at Southern Oregon University, officials called off all classes Wednesday after a note was discovered that referenced the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, The Oregonian reported.

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U Texas professor emeritus will leave teaching job over campus carry law

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A professor emeritus at the U of Texas says he'll leave campus rather than give lectures to hundreds of students who could bring guns.

NCAA Urged to Revamp Academic Metrics

The Drake Group, an organization pushing for more emphasis on academics in college sports, urged the National Collegiate Athletic Association on Wednesday to discontinue using the metrics it uses to determine academic eligibility.

In a position statement, the group argued that the NCAA's academic measures -- which include a Graduation Success Rate and an Academic Progress Rate -- are "public relations smokescreens hiding widespread exploitation of academically underprepared athletes and academic fraud." The calculations behind the metrics are flawed, the Drake Group said, because they do not permit comparison with nonathlete students, do not recognize institutional differences in mission and invite academic fraud when "mismatched recruits are denied appropriate remediation through academic support services."

"Academic integrity in intercollegiate athletics requires a system of checks and balances, transparent academic metrics and safeguards that ensure that learning occurs, not just that athletic eligibility is maintained," Gerald Gurney, president of the Drake Group, said in a statement. "When the NCAA fails to rely on comparator metrics to the nonathlete student body, no 'speed limit' is available to keep athletic programs honest. Unless academic standards for athletes are anchored to institutional academic standards and expectations for all students, athlete academic standards will float with the tide of institutional greed."

While many critics of big-time college sports have long questioned the reliability of the NCAA's academic requirements, the Drake Group wrote its recent analysis following a "comprehensive assessment of the strengths and weaknesses" of the measurements. The group recommends that the NCAA abandon its current metrics, use the federal graduation rate, require mandatory five-year scholarships and adopt a "commonly accepted measurement of good academic standard," including requiring athletes to attain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.0.

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Indiana Suspends Fraternity After Explicit Video Surfaces

Indiana University suspended its chapter of Alpha Tau Omega after a video surfaced that allegedly showed the fraternity chapter at IU forcing pledges to perform oral sex on women. The explicit video was posted online and shared on social media Wednesday. It shows a group of men cheering on a young man -- clad only in boxer shorts -- as he engages in oral sex with a fully nude woman on a mattress. Other men, also wearing only underwear, sit on the floor nearby as the man on the mattress appears to struggle to push away from the woman.

In a letter informing the chapter of its suspension, the university wrote that the fraternity allegedly violated the student code of conduct by performing "hazing activities which perpetuate sexual misconduct."

"The allegations, of which there appears to be credible video evidence, include a purported new chapter member being encouraged to perform a sex act on a female in the presence of several other chapter members," the university said in a statement. "Indiana University takes its responsibility to foster a culture of care and respect among the students on its campuses extremely seriously. If true, the alleged actions on the part of some members of the Alpha Tau Omega chapter run completely contrary to that commitment."

Wynn Smiley, CEO of Alpha Tau Omega's national organization, released a statement Thursday, saying that "the video is highly offensive and is antithetical to the values" of the fraternity. ATO has a history of misconduct at IU, and recently spent four semesters on social probation. The chapter was once notorious on campus for throwing a now-discontinued annual lingerie party known as "Ménage à Tau."

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Columbia College Part-Time Faculty Union Votes No Confidence in Administration

The independent part-time faculty union at Columbia College in Chicago voted no confidence in President Kwang-Ku Kim, Provost Stanley Wearden and the college’s Board of Trustees after a campaign lasting several months.

“The vote by our members illustrates the extremely low level of support Dr. Kim and Provost Wearden have among the adjunct faculty at Columbia,” Diana Vallera, president of Part-Time Faculty at Columbia College (P-fac), said in a statement. “This administration has only taken steps to erode the trust of the faculty.” The union says that the college unilaterally moved to eliminate its first-year seminar department in favor of larger, university-style classes, for example, and that it’s generally moving away from its traditional model of offering small classes taught by working professionals. The union, which voted to disaffiliate from the National Education Association earlier this year, also has accused the college of refusing to honor elements of the collective bargaining agreement it signed in 2013.

Not all faculty groups believe the vote of no confidence was the right move. James Nagle, an adjunct instructor of English at Columbia, and a member of Columbia Adjuncts United -- another part-time faculty association loyal to the NEA -- referred requests for comment to an editorial in the student newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle, which he said summed up his own thoughts about the vote.

“Increasing class sizes, top-down decision making and abrupt program eliminations are issues affecting the entire college community, but the vote of no confidence only reflects P-fac’s opinion of the administration,” reads the editorial. “If P-fac wants the Board of Trustees to acknowledge its grievances, it needs to show that the vote is a strategy to make constructive change, not a tactic to shame the administration. The vote can only be effective when the union proves its outlined concerns affect the greater college community and will eventually have ripple effects collegewide.”

Gregory Foster-Rice, an associate professor of the history of photography and president of the Faculty Senate, a body representing full-time faculty, said in a statement that the senate had never considered a vote of no confidence. “I would rather work at the table to which we have been invited and help change the college based on our expertise rather than dismiss this process or the administration,” he said. “We need to work together to build on our achievements and establish positive change at the college.”

The college has raised numerous concerns about the accuracy of P-fac’s public statements and the validity of the no confidence voting process. For example, the college says that the voting period was extended twice, over several months, and that the average class size went up just 6 percent this year over last. More generally, the college said in a statement that it values its part-time faculty, and that its new strategic plan -- developed last year in consultation with the faculty -- was a source of the controversy. “The plan sets forth key initiatives that support student success and academic excellence while continuing to strengthen the college’s prominence in arts and media education,” reads the statement. “To that end, hard choices must be made and, inevitably, there are those who will disagree.”

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Scrutiny for theological school over Native American artifacts

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Theology school denies allegations it tried to sell Native American artifacts covered by repatriation requirements.

Scholar Boycotts Conference at Brigham Young U

A well-known sociologist is boycotting a scholarly meeting at Brigham Young University based on the institution’s policy regarding students who enroll as Mormons but change their beliefs while on campus. “My decision not to participate is an act of conscience based on BYU’s policy of expelling any Mormon student who leaves the faith or converts to another religion,” Mark Juergensmeyer, a professor of sociology and director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote in a letter to organizers of the International Law and Religion Symposium now under way in Utah. “I have decided that it would be hypocritical of me to participate in a conference in which the issue of religious liberty is paramount when the institution sponsoring it fundamentally violates this principle in its policies towards Mormon students.”

Juergensmeyer said he was unaware of BYU’s policy regarding Mormon students until last weekend, when he was notified by a group called Free BYU, which opposes the university’s policy and has called on other scholars to boycott the conference. Juergensmeyer said that he’s been criticized by some for his decision, and has since released a follow-up statement to his letter saying that there may be “legal acceptance of such discrimination, but it is discrimination all the same, and I suspect that if a university in a Muslim country were to expel a student who wanted to become a Mormon, BYU administrators would regard this as a violation of religious freedom. And they would be right.”

Carri Jenkins, a BYU spokeswoman, said via email that prior to enrolling, all students agree to uphold the BYU honor code, and that “a student who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who formally rejects his or her beliefs can no longer be in good honor code standing.” Regarding Juergensmeyer’s decisions, Jenkins said that “institutional diversity is highly valued in American higher education and is protected by federal law. BYU is very open and clear about its mission as a religious institution. We also strive for academic excellence in an environment of intensive learning and rigor, where students and faculty on a daily basis are exploring, developing and creating ways to make our world a better place.”

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Report Questions Nonprofit Conversions

A new report from the Century Foundation questions the legitimacy of four former for-profit colleges' recent transformations to nonprofit status. Those institutions are "covert for-profits," according to the report, "where owners have managed to affix a nonprofit label to their colleges while engineering substantial ongoing personal financial benefits for themselves."

The report's author is Robert Shireman, a former U.S. Department of Education official who recently joined the foundation as a senior fellow. The report said several for-profits have sought to become nonprofits to avoid federal regulations, some of which Shireman worked to create. By using public information requests, Shireman wrote case studies about the conversions of Herzing University, Remington Colleges Inc., Everglades College and the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE).

All four of the institutions signed contracts committing them to pay their former owners hundreds of millions of dollars, the report found, while those former owners remain involved in the governance of the nonprofits. For example, Keiser University told the IRS that neither its founder, Arthur Keiser, nor his family members would receive any "nonincidental private benefit attributable" to the newly nonprofit Everglades College. Yet in 2011 Everglades paid more than $34 million to entities owned by Keiser's family members.

Despite what Shireman called the "egregious" examples of covert for-profits, the IRS and the Education Department have failed to crack down. The reason, he said, is a regulatory blind spot where each agency assumes the other is doing the monitoring.


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