Wittenberg President Abruptly Resigns Amid Cutbacks

After leading Wittenberg University through two rounds of major cuts since she joined the institution in 2012, Laurie Joyner abruptly resigned from the presidency of the private Ohio college Tuesday. 

Upon her arrival, Joyner was tasked with improving the university's finances, and recently the college announced a plan to cut $6.5 million from its budget, according to an article in the Springfield News-Sun. “This decision to leave Wittenberg has not been easy,” Joyner said in a news release announcing her departure.

Added Wittenberg governing board chairperson Thomas Murray, in a statement: “Dr. Joyner is leaving Wittenberg University in a much stronger financial position and with talented staff members to continue the progress begun during her tenure.”

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Milwaukee technical college board under fire for lack of minority representation

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At Milwaukee Area Technical College, some students, faculty and community members feel the new, pro-business appointment process to the institution's board disenfranchises minorities.

NCAA: 86 Percent of Division I Athletes Graduate

College athletes are graduating at record rates, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association's metric known as the Graduation Success Rate. Eighty-six percent of Division I athletes who entered college in 2008 graduated within six years, according to new data released Wednesday by the NCAA. That's two percentage points higher than last year.

Men's basketball players earned a 77 percent GSR, up three points from last year, and women's basketball players earned a GSR of 89 percent, up two points. Football Bowl Subdivision football players graduated at a 75 percent rate, and 76 percent of Football Championship Subdivision players graduated within six years. The rate for white athletes increased one point this year to 90 percent, and African-American athletes graduated at a rate of 73 percent, up three points from last year.

The record rates come after a year of high-profile academic scandals involving big-time college athletics, including cases of academic fraud that may stem from the increasing pressure on colleges to improve the academic performance and graduation rates of their athletes. While NCAA critics question the accuracy of the association's academic measurements, Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, said in a statement that there's no question that athletes are graduating at higher rates than ever.

“Student athletes continue to make important gains in the classroom, and the NCAA and its member schools are thrilled with their success,” Emmert stated. “We also are proud of the role academic reforms have played in helping students earn their degrees. We will continue to support rules and policies that encourage students to progress toward graduation.”

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Northwestern philosophy professor resigns during termination hearing over sexual harassment findings

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In an unexpected move, a Northwestern professor found guilty of sexual harassment resigns during his termination hearing.

Court: Harris-Stowe State U Owes $4.85 Million to White Former Professor

Harris-Stowe State University must pay a former full-time education instructor $4.85 million in damages related to her racial bias claims, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. A St. Louis circuit court ruled that the historically black university discriminated against Beverly Wilkins, who is white, when it fired her in 2010.

Wilkins said one administrator in particular, Latisha Smith, a former dean and department head, failed to follow a reduction in force policy in pegging her for termination over several other black faculty members. The lawsuit alleges that Smith purged the department of all white faculty members, except one protected by tenure, and that she covered up her bias by deleting incriminating emails. Smith blamed budget cuts for Wilkins’s termination, but continued to hire additional faculty members -- including two to cover Wilkins’s classes, who together were paid more than her salary -- Michael Meyers, her lawyer, told the Dispatch.

Ronald Norwood, chairman of the Harris-Stowe State University Board of Regents, called the ruling “regrettable” in a statement, and said the university was dedicated to moving forward after key leadership changes.

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New Lumina Papers on Performance-Based Funding

The Lumina Foundation this week released the first four of 13 papers it plans to roll out in coming months on performance-based funding in higher education. At least 35 states are either developing or using funding formulas that link support for public colleges to student completion rates, degree production numbers or other metrics. The Lumina papers look at how those policies are working, with particular interest in their impact on the completion rates of underserved student populations.

"Numerous independent research studies have found evidence that funding models with financial incentives for colleges and universities to help students complete their programs of study result in better pathways and supports for students," the foundation said in a written statement. "The need for finance systems oriented around improving student outcomes is urgent, especially for ensuring more equitable outcomes for students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds."

The first four papers give an overview of outcomes-based funding. Future papers will focus on state policy metrics, the relationship of student incentives to performance funding and institutional responses to the formulas.

Broad Coalition's Goals for the Higher Education Act

A coalition of 12 organizations, including New America, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Law and Social Policy, on Wednesday released a set of shared principles for policy makers to consider in the run-up to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the law that governs federal aid programs. While the groups have different takes on many issues in higher education, they said the current formulation of the law does not meet the needs of students for high-quality, affordable and relevant educational opportunities.

The groups described seven principles: outcomes are what matter, federal financial aid policies need to be more flexible, higher education needs to do more to connect learning and work, accreditation processes need to be more transparent and rigorous, quality assurance processes should focus more on programs and credentials, policy should encourage innovation and experimentation, and that the Higher Education Act should be better coordinated with other federally funded education and training programs.

"Reauthorization offers the chance to renew our country’s commitment to higher education for all who seek it," they wrote, "while also helping institutions adapt to the fast-paced, technology-driven global economy that their students will face at graduation."

Therapist Who Criticized Oregon Over Records Resigns

A therapist at the University of Oregon who criticized the university for its handling of an alleged sexual assault victim's campus therapy records resigned Monday.

Jennifer Morlok was one of two employees at Oregon's counseling center who blew the whistle on how the university sought and received the records of a student who said she was gang-raped by three Oregon basketball players. The university asked to see the records after the student sued the administration over its handling of her case. The consensus among student privacy experts was that Oregon did nothing illegal, but many considered the university's actions to be an ethical breach that exposed an alarming loophole in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

In February, Morlok penned an open letter denouncing the university's actions. The letter and its fallout prompted the Oregon House of Representatives to unanimously pass a bill that ensures “confidential communications between a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking and victim advocates or services programs are to be kept confidential from disclosure, and by default will not be admissible in court.” The controversy also led to the U.S. Department of Education releasing new guidance about the issue and to federal lawmakers calling for the loophole to be closed.

In a letter sent to the university's president on Monday, Morlok said that after coming forward with her concerns, she was "sidelined" and vilified by administrators and her coworkers.

"I am no longer willing to be treated as though I am an enemy of the very counseling services I enjoyed providing to students -- or an enemy of the very university I received my degree from -- where I had hoped my two sons would attend," she wrote. "It is wrong to treat employees who share problems with the system as though they are the problem."

In a statement Monday, Robin Holmes, Oregon's vice president for student life, said that the university was "opposed to anything that can be construed as workplace retaliation against those who air critical views or opinions."

Another lawsuit

Oregon settled the alleged assault victim's lawsuit in August, awarding her $800,000 and free tuition. On Friday, another lawsuit related to the case was filed against Oregon -- this time by the accused student at the center of the allegations.

Brandon Austin, a former Oregon basketball player, is suing the university for $7.5 million, alleging that Oregon violated his rights to due process when it suspended him over the alleged assault. According to the lawsuit, the university refused to allow "Austin to subpoena witnesses who would be supportive of his defense, refused to provide unredacted reports, refused to provide a contested case hearing, refused to allow cross-examination and otherwise refused to provide the due process required by the United States Constitution and applicable laws."

In the suit, Austin claims that the university "outrageously suspended him," and that the punishment caused him emotional distress and lessened his chances of one day playing in the National Basketball Association. Austin transferred to Northwest Florida State College and played basketball there last season, but has since left to pursue playing the sport professionally.

On Friday, the university released a statement saying Austin "was afforded fair and consistent due process that fully complied with the university's legal obligations."

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Protest Greets Iowa President on His First Day

About 200 students and faculty members greeted J. Bruce Harreld with a protest on his first full day as president of the University of Iowa, The Gazette reported. Many on campus have charged that the Iowa Board of Regents didn't conduct a proper search, and critics have questioned Harreld's qualifications. He has insisted he is qualified and that he wants to move past the protests. But on Monday, protesters called on him and members of the Board of Regents to resign.

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Perpetual endowments can thwart colleges' educational and charitable goals (essay)

“Endowments ’R’ Us!” Now that’s a fitting motto for American higher education.

College and university presidents like large endowments for both their real and symbolic benefits. A large endowment provides a flow of spendable resources each year and also gives a college or university a big boost in prestige and national rankings. And a high endowment per student adds luster to the symbolic shine -- and raises the institution’s Moody’s credit rating.

Little wonder then that college and university presidents avoid spending more than the endowment’s annual interest and dividends. And they bristle when a congressional subcommittee suggests new federal legislation that would require colleges and universities to increase their endowment spending or questions how much they are spending -- as occurred at a recent hearing on Capitol Hill last month.

Presidents have thus far warded off congressional threats by reminding the public that endowments guarantee colleges “will have a future” so “we can continue to enhance our value and service to our students, faculty, community and nation” or something along those lines. As the president of Pomona College, David Oxtoby, recently wrote, “Endowments are financial pillars, not piggy banks.”

Endowments certainly should not be used as piggy banks. But “financial pillar” is hardly an apt metaphor, either. First, it literally ties colleges to a “bricks and mortar” image when the priority should be education, not construction. Second, pillars, for all their imposing stature, are inflexible, inanimate and do not withstand earthquakes and erosion very well.

Endowments need to be reconceived as organic, comparable to the college’s garden. As such, they need continual care in weeding and seeding. More urgent than fending off federal regulation is for college presidents, trustees and development officers to reconsider the customs they have taken to heart in celebrating endowments as important to colleges and universities.

The foremost scripture worth revisiting is that perpetual endowments are sacred. Is that always a good thing? Even John D. Rockefeller Sr. -- no stranger to generous philanthropy for American higher education -- had some reservations. In opting to put term limits on one of his major gifts for educational projects, he noted, “After all, forever is a long, long time …”

Think of some of the headaches caused by perpetual gifts, which may honor the donor but thwart good stewardship today: scholarships restricted to children of Spanish-American War veterans might have been noble and useful in 1900, but they now tie up some student financial aid resources and help no one. If a financial aid director today does happen to have a prospective recipient, she should be careful to check the applicant’s birth certificate as well as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The waste of petrified funds caused by colleges agreeing to unwieldy restrictions is not only from the distant past. A few years ago a university in the San Diego area reported that it had a substantial scholarship fund, which the donor restricted to "Jewish orphans interested in pursuing a graduate degree in aeronautical engineering." The donated money may accrue interest that increases the college endowment tally, but it is useless in assisting students because it is lifeless.

The problem is not confined to idiosyncratic scholarship funds. Many colleges and universities have institutes and centers originally supported by private gifts -- but for research projects on topics that have long cease to be pertinent, now artificially shored up by a perpetual fund. These take up space, facilities and may even be cross-subsidized from revenues elsewhere in the institution.

So, a first consideration for the 21st century is that colleges need to review thoroughly the terms of all their assorted gifts, which coagulate to create the complex mutual fund we refer to as the endowment. If the terms of a particular gift are obsolete or unreasonable, colleges can bundle the dysfunctional scholarship funds and request the courts to invoke the doctrine of cy pres -- translated as “so near.” This then allows a college to propose reasonable new terms to guide spending from these albatross gifts. But that requires the college to take initiative and give sustained attention, as the crucial concern of the courts is that an institution has truly shown good faith in tracking down donors or their heirs to get their permission and collaboration.

One might argue that such a review of all gifts is a housekeeping chore that distracts from the main issues about purposes and funds of a college. Perhaps, but the case-by-case exercise does prompt colleges and universities to address ultimately a serious concern: namely, that restrictions donors place on gifts -- and to which colleges have knowingly agreed -- may not always represent responsible educational priorities.

Yes, of course, a potential donor has the right to demand conditions. And colleges have equal right to persuade the donor to change the terms. And, if that falls through, a college can refuse gifts whose terms remain unreasonable or inappropriate. Even though a major gift may be tempting to take, college officials must be vigilant to make certain its charter of educational service is not compromised.

The principle of scrutiny and restraint could be extended to additional situations where donors are detailed and demanding. For example, at one time, college officials discovered -- often, too late -- that major gifts for monuments and buildings left the college stuck with maintenance and heating expenses long after a bell tower or library had been named in honor of a donor. Presidents had to make sure that henceforth prospective building donors be required to include a fund for repairs and maintenance. Here was an example where incorporating a restriction was the right thing to do. Such innovations in fund-raising require that the burden shifts to the modern college president as the one who educates and persuades donors on wise projects and their time limits.

In asking college presidents to rethink the propriety of perpetual gifts, no one is suggesting that colleges “spend out” or exhaust their endowment. Rather, the invitation is to consider working with donors so that each gift has an appropriate life span to accomplish a worthy and timely educational goal. This might result in a perpetual endowment -- but perhaps not.

The point is to move away from the presumption of a perpetual gift and the presidential path of least resistance in accepting unwieldy gifts. A project might be accomplished in 50 years, another project in 10 years. So, instead of federal regulation, how about a voluntary, good faith commitment by presidents to work at educating donors to define gifts to finite periods that are educationally and fiscally sound?

The conventional wisdom is that a large endowment assures a financially healthy future. By this logic, it provides a college protection if “tomorrow is a rainy day.” This justification is not wholly convincing. If a college has a firm policy that prohibits spending the principle, the endowment is limited in how it can provide added relief in a problematic time, whether it is in 2016 or 3016. It’s feasible for a college to close down financially even if it has a substantial endowment that is either untouched or untouchable.

Some presidents note that colleges spend more from their endowments in “bad times” and then less in financially “good times.” But I’m not certain that is universally accurate. Following the 2008 stock market decline, many institutions with relatively high endowments still cut staff and faculty positions and reduced spending on educational programs.

Most overlooked is that the primary threat to reducing a college’s endowment has not been the spendthrift who draws out more than the accrued interests and dividends. Rather, it is bad investing. Somehow college presidents and boards who are averse to spending, say, 15 percent of the endowment on timely educational programs in a year still readily accept as an unavoidable fact of life that an endowment can lose 25 percent in a year due to stock market losses. What is missing from that explanation is that some colleges became susceptible to severe losses when, over the past two decades, they opted for high-risk investment strategies.

It’s hard to see established, affluent colleges and universities as beleaguered institutions. They are beneficiaries of many privileges and exemptions -- and enjoy a favorable status even within the ranks of all charitable nonprofit organizations. For example, colleges already get a substantial break from the requirement whereby foundations must spend 5 percent of their endowment each year. Colleges, in contrast, have to spend annually only 4 percent of their endowment to comply with the IRS.

Weeding the college endowment garden may reveal that many restricted gifts do not serve genuine educational activities in the historic spirit of an eleemosynary institution. Presidents and boards need to keep in mind that a college or university is a charity. It can receive money and also is required to spend money on appropriate charitable, educational goals. With large endowments, spending wisely does not always mean spending less.

John Thelin is a professor at the University of Kentucky and the co-author, with Richard Trollinger, of Philanthropy and American Higher Education (Palgrave MacMillan).

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