Suit: Handling of Rape Allegations Led to Suicide

The mother of a former William Paterson University student who committed suicide last year is suing the university, alleging that the death was the result of the institution's failure to fully investigate her daughter's claims that she was raped at fraternity house.

In October 2015, Cherelle Locklear told the university's victims services coordinator that she was raped the previous month. The coordinator, according to the lawsuit, did not report the crime to police until November. The university and police "utterly failed to perform an appropriate and thorough investigation," the lawsuit states, and the suspect was neither "confronted or charged." Locklear hanged herself with a necktie Nov. 22, 2015.

The university did not respond to a request for comment.

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Compilation: Seeking a Competitive Advantage

Inside Higher Ed is pleased to release today our latest print-on-demand compilation, "Seeking a Competitive Advantage." The articles explore the many ways colleges seek to position themselves in a competitive, changing environment. You may download the booklet, free, here. And you may sign up here for a free webinar on the themes of the booklet, on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 2 p.m. Eastern.


Congresswoman Proposes Ed Department Offer Loan Assistance to Sexual Assault Victims

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights Tuesday, Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, urged OCR to work with the Office of Federal Student Aid to help victims of campus sexual assault with their student loans.

"Over and over, I have heard from survivors who were forced to withdraw from courses or, in the worst cases, drop out of school completely due to an appalling lack of academic support or accommodation," Speier wrote. "Many students who qualify for refunds in these cases struggle to receive reimbursement. Some have been forced to take out additional loans for mental health services and tutoring, which are supposed to be provided by schools free of charge."

Speier proposed that the department allow victims to temporarily postpone student loan payments under the "poor health and other acceptable reasons" justifications; clarify that colleges must offer student loan counseling to victims; support access to reimbursement through OCR's resolution agreements with institutions; and update OCR's case processing manual to improve survivors' access to information about student loan assistance.

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LIU Faculty Union Files Unfair Labor Practice Claim

Long Island University’s American Federation of Teachers-affiliated faculty union filed an unfair labor charge against the university with the National Labor Relations Board over the ongoing faculty lockout there. Regular instructors have been blocked from campus over protracted contract negotiations since classes started last week, even as students complain on social media and elsewhere. Unfair labor practice charges include repudiation of contract, refusal to bargain/bad faith bargaining, changes in terms and conditions of employment, and lockout. The university could not immediately be reached for comment, but it has blamed the union for making contract demands that LIU says it cannot afford and said that the lockout is intended to promote stability for students.

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Richmond Suspends Fraternity for 'Offensive' Email

The University of Richmond chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity was suspended by both the university and its national headquarters Monday after two members sent an email that Richmond officials said contained "grossly offensive language."

The email was an event reminder about the fraternity's first party of the year. The message, which was sent at 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, urged other students, including freshmen, to start drinking alcohol in preparation for the event. "Tonight's the type of night that makes fathers afraid to send their daughters away to school," the email concluded. "Let's get it."

In a statement Monday, the university said it had suspended all chapter activities "pending a thorough investigation" into the email, which officials said contained "suggestions of behavior inconsistent with our polices concerning Greek life and with the caring nature of our campus community." The email comes at a time when the University of Richmond is under fire for how it responded to a student's claim that it mishandled her sexual assault allegations.

"We know that it is our job and responsibility to help students, to care for them and to contribute to the well-being of each individual and our community as a whole," Ronald A. Crutcher, the university's president, said in an email to the campus on Friday.

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CFPB Penalizes Bridgepoint Over Private Loans

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sanctioned Bridgepoint Education, owner of Ashford University, for "deceiving students into taking out private student loans that cost more than advertised," the federal watchdog agency said Monday.

The CFPB ordered Bridgepoint to discharge all outstanding institutional loans made to its students and to refund loan payments made by borrowers -- a total of $23.5 million in payments to 1,277 affected students. The company also must pay an $8 million civil fine. The penalties are among the largest the young agency, which the Obama administration created, has levied in higher education so far.

Beginning in 2009, Bridgepoint offered private loans to its students. The bureau said the publicly traded for-profit deceived students about the total cost of loans by telling them the wrong monthly repayment amount. The CFPB's sanctions include a requirement that Bridgepoint use a newly created financial aid disclosure tool with its students, which includes personalized financial aid information as well student outcomes data such as graduation and loan default rates, potential salaries for graduates and postgraduation budgeting.

In a written statement, Bridgepoint said the CFPB identified only one problem area with the loan program -- that employees of the company may have verbally told students that loans could be paid in installments as low as $25 per month, when the actual payments may have been higher.

"While Bridgepoint maintains that its institutions acted in good faith and provided all appropriate tools and disclosures for the loan programs," the company said, "Bridgepoint chose to negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution in order to move forward and allow its institutions to focus on students."

Competing student groups debate the American flag and appropriate memorial for 9/11

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College Republicans plant 2,997 flags on campus. Many are removed and trashed. Another student group questions the memorial and posts fliers to honor the Iraqis killed after U.S. invasion.

Making college work for students with autism (essay)

For graduating high school seniors who are entering college this fall, it is an exciting time. Possibilities have been opened! Yet now new concerns arise: Have they chosen the right college? Will they thrive?

These are hard questions for any young adult, but for those with autism, the stakes are especially high. A 2015 Autism Speaks report found that only 30 percent of high school graduates with autism ever attend a two- or four-year college, and those that do fare poorly. Research suggests that 80 percent of them never graduate. Furthermore, only 32 percent of high school graduates with autism find paying work within two years of graduating high school. This need not be. Half of all individuals with autism have average or above-average intelligence. They can do the work. The problem is not the students. It’s the colleges.

We come to this issue from an unusual perspective. One of us, Elizabeth, studies at Pasadena City College and has autism. The other, Margaret, teaches at California State University at Los Angeles, and -- in addition to being Elizabeth’s mother -- has worked with students on and off the spectrum. Together, we have seen the many ways that colleges fail students with autism.

Federal legislation, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, mandates that colleges provide reasonable accommodations for disabled students. But common accommodations, such as providing a quiet exam setting, don’t adequately address the problems faced by many students with autism.

As autism scholars Ernst VanBergeijk, Ami Klin and Fred Volkmar note, autism is a social disability. The inherent qualities of autism -- resistance to change, sensitive sensory systems, weakness at reading social cues and a tendency to take language literally -- interfere with communication and social engagement. A quiet exam room will not help students overcome those barriers. The problems students with autism face are more insidious.

Elizabeth, for example, struggles with understanding if professors are being sarcastic or rhetorical. Uncertain, she often responds too much or too little. When one professor expressed frustration at her eager hand raising, she asked privately if he would signal her when he wasn’t being serious or didn’t require a response. “No,” he said. “I don’t need to change my teaching for you, and you need to learn sarcasm.”

It would be easy to regard Elizabeth’s experience as exceptional, the product of one unsympathetic professor. Yet research out of Australia by Ru Ying Cai and Amanda L. Richdale confirms how common such experiences are. In focus groups, autistic college students told story after story about metaphorical or abstract language leading to confusion, as well as loud, active classrooms challenging their abilities to focus on learning. For many, the frustrations became too great, leading to stress, anxiety and regrettable outcomes. However, when students felt their social needs were met -- in particular when faculty members proved willing to modify their teaching style -- students had much more positive experiences.

But American professors are not required to modify their teaching style for disabled students, and colleges are not required to think about the social, communicative needs of any students, let alone those with autism. Those things are not considered reasonable accommodations. But if autism is indeed a social disability, then denying the social needs of autistic students is inherently unreasonable.

It would help if faculty members understood how autism affects learning. But professors are busy. They juggle many demands, and professional development is often low on their to-do lists. At Margaret’s university -- which houses an outstanding center for teaching and learning development -- professional development seminars are often poorly attended, especially those focused on helping students with special needs. At one seminar on working with hearing-impaired students, Margaret was one of three instructors to show up, and if our conversations with colleagues and peers are indicative, then Margaret’s experience is a common one. Even when given the opportunity to learn more about the needs of disabled students, professors turn those choices down.

Some positive changes are underway. More than 100 colleges now offer programs for students with autism, but most of them are private, expensive, residential programs. Meanwhile, research suggests that up to 80 percent of college students with autism at one point filter through community colleges, where students, often still highly dependent on family support, can live at home. Those institutions generally offer fewer resources for students with autism. If we are to meet the needs of neurodiverse students, public community colleges will need to lead the way.

In these days when most community college disability offices are underfunded -- Elizabeth’s community college does not even provide note takers -- meeting the needs of students with autism may seem daunting. But meaningful institutional changes do not need to strain budgets. For Elizabeth, the greatest support has often come from students who have chosen to act as social interpreters. A whispered word or two is often all she needs to better and more appropriately engage with her curriculum. Colleges like California State University at Fullerton already have mentorship programs that pair neurotypical and neuroatypical classmates.

We recommend expanding such programs so that peer mentors -- perhaps those offered the coveted privilege of priority registration -- work side by side with autistic students in the classroom. Of course, that brings us back to the privacy concerns voiced earlier. Peer mentors can only work with students who are willing to self-identify in the classroom as having autism, which is why autistic students themselves must also be involved in making campuses more responsive to their needs -- and that will only happen when students with autism bring neurodiversity into conversations about campus diversity.

Until that happens, faculty can do a lot to foster feelings of safety and inclusion for all students -- both with autism and without. Elizabeth advocates for simple kindness, acceptance and the understanding that some disabilities are invisible. In Margaret’s classes, she announces on day one that students registered with the school’s disability office should feel free to talk to her about not just the accommodations they may legally require but also about other things she can do to make her courses work for them. She shares -- with Elizabeth’s permission -- the struggles Elizabeth has faced in education, and she urges students to see her as someone who really wants to help them succeed.

Work by Nicholas Gelbar, Isaac Smith and Brian Reichow offers faculty members other suggestions for helping students on the spectrum: incorporate universal design into curriculum and assignments. As much as possible, use concrete language in both lectures and the syllabus. Break tasks down into more steps, provide greater organizational support, realize that group work, public speaking and active classrooms (such popular buzzwords in today’s curricular development) may offer particular challenges for students who struggle socially and who do not thrive in environments demanding rapid transitions. In other words, when dealing with students whose disability makes flexibility extremely difficult, faculty members must be the flexible ones. They must also take responsibility for educating themselves about neurodiversity, and if that seems too hard, they can do one last thing. They can defer to autistic students who do understand their own needs, and they can give those students the support they ask for.

One thing is undeniable: without significant changes, the traditional gateway to greater community inclusion and financial security will remain closed to people with autism. And that’s a tragedy, because those with autism have a lot to offer -- not just to our colleges, but also to our nation’s economy. We all win when everyone can compete and contribute.

Elizabeth Finnegan is a student at Pasadena City College. Margaret Finnegan teaches at California State University at Los Angeles. She is the author of Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women (Columbia University Press, 1999), and her work has appeared in College Communication and Composition, American Quarterly and other publications.

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iStock/Jason Enterline

New presidents or provosts: Broward Calif. CC Hopkins Illinois Portland River Valley Sudbury Wilberforce

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  • Sophie Bouffard, director and founder of La Cité Universitaire Francophone at the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan, has been appointed president and vice chancellor of the University of Sudbury, in Ontario.

Football Player Arrested for Punching Referee in Head

A football game between two California community colleges Saturday included the arrest of a player for punching a referee in the head. Bernard Shirmer, a player at Mt. San Antonio College, was arrested during a game with Ventura College. The Los Angeles Times reported that he was booked on suspicion of felony battery and released on bail Sunday morning. Video below shows the incident, which took place as the referee was separating groups of players who had been in a scuffle.

Mt. San Antonio College released a statement in which it said that punching the referee was an accident. "After closely reviewing video footage and interviewing those involved and outside witnesses, Mt. SAC maintains that the student-athlete, Bernard Shirmer, unintentionally hit the referee," the statement said. "During a disagreement after a play, numerous people surrounded him and pulled him away from the opposing player. Out of frustration, Mr. Shirmer struck himself on the helmet, a habit he often does to calm himself down. In doing so, he inadvertently hit the referee and initially believed someone else had done so. Mr. Shirmer expressed deep remorse about the incident and any harm to the referee."

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