The University of Maryland at College Park has concluded that an offensive email in which a fraternity member told brothers to ignore the idea that women need to consent to sex, and in which he used a series of racist and sexist terms, is protected by the First Amendment. "This private email, while hateful and reprehensible, did not violate university policies and is protected by the First Amendment," said a statement issued by Wallace D. Loh, president of the university. That the author of the email can't be legally punished, Loh wrote, does not mean that the hurt it caused was not real. The email "caused anger and anguish, pain and fear, among many people. It subverts our core values of inclusivity, human dignity, safety and mutual respect. When any one of us is harmed by the hateful speech of another, all of us are harmed," Loh wrote.
The university previously announced that the author of the email and the university had "mutually agreed" that he would not be enrolled for the rest of the semester. Loh's statement included an apology from the student. "I regret sending that email more than I'll ever be able to put into words," he wrote. "I know there is no way to erase this incident or the agony it has caused, but I want you to know that I will strive to never use such language again. I have learned an important life lesson, realizing there is no room for hate or prejudice of any kind in our community. I am committed to becoming a better person, a person that appreciates differences."
The issue of sexual violence on college and university campuses has been a metaphorical bomb dropped on the reputation of American higher education. A bomb that has been ticking and counting down for decades, and has now reached the point of explosion and complete catastrophe. Indeed, no single issue has permeated the higher education landscape to such a scathing -- and well-deserved -- degree. And, through myriad public lawsuits, protests and articles, the culture surrounding the issue of sexual violence on college campuses has been firmly established: change will come through isolation, confrontation and regulation.
I agree that strict policies and zero-tolerance attitudes are critical to changing the culture of sexual violence. Yet I fear this steadfast dedication to zero tolerance has bled into zero tolerance of conversation and constructive dialogue among students on topics of sexual violence.
The tried-and-true commitment to civil discourse -- a pillar of the American higher education system -- is strikingly absent from the issue of sexual violence on college campuses. However, we know that difficult topics require conversation, in addition to policy and procedure. When it comes to an issue as critically important to student safety and well-being as sexual violence, nothing should be off the table. For example, we cannot discuss sexual violence without also addressing alcohol abuse -- the two are bound together. Indeed alcohol abuse plays a role in almost all of the behavior issues afflicting college campuses -- and society -- and we have to have a holistic approach. We should encourage students, male and female, to tell their stories openly and honestly, without fear of judgment -- whether it is a first-person account from a rape victim or a bystander who has witnessed, or knows of, a violent assault and did nothing about it.
College and university campuses need truly grown-up conversations about sexual violence led by and among our student bodies. Conversations and discussions that are free from this entrenched sense of “Thou shall not.” Instead, we need conversations that feed the higher education essence of “Thou shall think and act.”
How do we, as higher education leaders, create an atmosphere in which people will not be afraid of awkward conversations? I believe we need to focus on three ingredients: awareness, transparency and student leadership.
First, leaders must continue to build awareness of sexual violence issues and policies on our campuses. At West Virginia University, we have joined the It’s on Us campaign, a national conversation starter on campus sexual violence. Through the campaign, West Virginia University is leading comprehensive awareness strategies centered on a commitment to recognizing assault, intervening in situations of assault and creating an environment in which assault is wholly unacceptable.
In tandem with awareness, campus leaders must be transparent about the issue of sexual violence. This is where the conversations can be awkward. Yet transparency is crucial to lessening the intimidation of sexual violence issues. And, through transparent conversations, we will get to a place where students can have awkward discussions without being afraid of conversations on awkward topics. Campus leaders must show students that the most worthwhile things in life are not pleasant all of the time.
Finally, the issue of sexual violence on campus is not a top-down discussion. As I previously stated, change will come through peer-to-peer conversations among students. Leaders must help students have these crucial and awkward discussions. We need to encourage bottom-up conversation but engage in top-down support.
I would be remiss -- and naïve -- to not mention the dual importance of both change and continuity of change. If we are to be laser focused on the challenge of culture change regarding sexual violence, then we must also focus on the challenge of continuity. Universities have survived for millennia because of the fact that there is coherence and continuity in what we do in classrooms and research laboratories. We must apply the same foundational thinking to our culture.
Universities can battle sexual violence by proving that there is another way. Higher education must move from the symbol of being the ivory tower to the symbol of being the helping hand. We have all conceded that this is a very serious moment in the history of higher education. We must, therefore, become the central force for change. That means colleges and universities need to make a case through example and through speaking out that the state and nation must do the same. We must fight the darker angels from the fringes and recapture that middle ground, which will solidify our path to both change and continuity.
Lastly, I have come to believe that the most important lesson related to leading change may be counterintuitive. Many people argue that change should be made gradually -- that people cannot stand such sudden change, and that rapid change is overly disruptive. My view is to the contrary. In today’s environment and with such an important issue, incremental change is not enough. When change is this necessary, it should be made quickly and boldly.
I leave you with the old Irish proverb that says, “You will never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.” Good stuff, indeed, and I hope it ignites conversations among readers.
E. Gordon Gee is president of West Virginia University.
The U.S. Department of Education plans to release on Friday the names of the nearly two dozen colleges it had redacted from the list of colleges it is watching more closely.
The department earlier this week released a list of 556 colleges and universities that were subject to restrictions on their student aid and extra scrutiny known as heightened cash monitoring. But officials declined to identify 23 of those institutions, 21 of which had been placed on the more stringent level of monitoring. Most of them were singled out for scrutiny after federal audits of their financial aid programs resulted in “severe findings.”
Because the department has ongoing investigations at those institutions, Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said Monday, “releasing those names would impede the progress of our investigation.”
Denise Horn, a department spokeswoman, said Thursday that the decision to now release all of the names came after “further legal review and in response to follow-up inquiries.” It also comes after The New York Times editorial board on Thursday criticized the department for withholding the information, calling it a "disservice to students."
The department also plans to release Friday an updated cash-monitoring list that is current through this week. The list released earlier this week was from March 1.
The parents of Tucker Hipps, a Clemson University student who fell from a bridge to his death during a run with his fraternity, are suing the university, Sigma Phi Epsilon and three members of the local chapter. The lawsuit alleges that the run was part of a hazing ritual and that Hipps, who was pledging with the fraternity at the time, fell to his death following an argument after he failed to bring McDonald's biscuits on the run, as demanded earlier by older members of the fraternity.
"[A fraternity member] and Tucker had a confrontation over the pledges' failure to bring the requested McDonald's breakfast," the lawsuit reads. "Subsequently, Tucker went over the railing of the bridge into the shallow waters of Lake Hartwell headfirst. Upon information and belief, a long tradition existed among the members of the local chapter requiring, pressuring, encouraging and forcing pledges to jump off of one or more bridges over Lake Hartwell and swim to shore." The lawsuit also alleges that the fraternity members did not report Hipps missing until seven hours after he fell from the bridge. The lawsuit claims the university was aware of the run, and is seeking in excess of $25 million in damages.
Two police officers at El Centro College, part of the Dallas County Community College District, have been suspended amid an investigation of a video that appears to show them mistreating four black teenagers, The Dallas Morning News reported. The video shows the police officers, without visible provocation, lining up the teens against the wall, taunting them, grabbing them and arresting them. The teens say that they were simply waiting for a bus.
The University of Oklahoma announced Tuesday that it has hired Jabar Shumate as its new vice president overseeing diversity and inclusion initiatives. Shumate is a former Oklahoma state senator and a former press secretary for David Boren, the University of Oklahoma's president. "I knew that this person had to be someone in whom I had complete trust," Boren said during a news conference Tuesday. "Complete trust in their actions, complete trust in their motives, complete trust in their good judgment."
The hire came weeks after a video surfaced showing members of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter singing a racist song, prompting the university to sever ties with the fraternity and engage in an ongoing conversation about diversity on campus.
Syracuse University announced Tuesday that it will decrease its financial stake in fossil fuels while looking for additional investments for its endowment in renewable energy companies.
The announcement follows a February meeting between administrators and members of the student group Divest S.U., which has staged rallies to encourage the university to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies. Divestment also was one of the demands made by a group of students who staged an 18-day sit-in last semester.
The university did not respond to an inquiry about how much of its endowment would be affected by the decision to divest. In the announcement, Syracuse said it won’t “directly invest in publicly traded companies whose primary business is extraction of fossil fuels.” The university also will direct its external investment managers to try to prohibit investing in fossil fuels as well, according to the announcement.
Despite ongoing campaigns from students, most colleges have refused requests to divest from fossil fuels.
San Francisco State bars use of university funds to travel to Indiana. Connecticut governor bars all public colleges (and other state agencies) from using state funds to do so. Do these moves raise academic freedom issues?