Live Updates: Latest News in Higher Education



Live Updates: Latest News in Higher Education

New Suit Against Florida’s Stop WOKE Act

A group of professors on Thursday sued the state of Florida over its Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act, widely called the Stop WOKE Act.

The law prohibits teaching things (including in higher education) that may make students feel uncomfortable. Also on Thursday, a federal judge blocked a portion of the law that affects private businesses.

The new suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida ACLU, challenges the part of the law that covers higher education.

“All educators and students have a right to teach and learn free from censorship or discrimination,” said Leah Watson, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “The First Amendment broadly protects our right to share information and ideas, and this includes educators’ and students’ right to learn, discuss, and debate issues around systemic racism and sexism. In an effort to prevent progress towards racial justice, the Stop WOKE Act deprives educators and students of important tools to challenge racism and sexism. We urge the court to put an immediate stop to this discriminatory classroom censorship bill.”

Big Ten Signs TV Contract for $1B a Year

The Big Ten Conference has reached a seven-year contract for television rights for an average of at least $1 billion a year, The New York Times reported. This is the first time a college conference has secured a deal of that size.

The conference made a deal with Fox for many of the key games. But the Big Ten also signed deals with CBS and NBC. ESPN, which has had a long relationship with the Big Ten, is not in the new deal.

Less than 20 years ago, Big Ten universities were splitting less than $200 million in media rights money annually when adjusted for inflation, according to a database run by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and Syracuse University.

Could UC Prevent UCLA From Joining Big Ten?

Leaders of the University of California are discussing plans to use the system’s authority to prevent the University of California, Los Angeles, from leaving the Pac-12 athletic conference and joining the Big Ten, the Los Angeles Times reported.

It has been widely assumed that UCLA has the right to leave because of a 1991 system policy that lets campus chancellors negotiate contracts, including those that involve intercollegiate athletics.

But several members of the Board of Regents and a lawyer for the board asserted Wednesday that this need not be the case.

“It’s important to understand that when the regents delegated authority to the president, they didn’t give it away or lose it,” UC system attorney Charlie Robinson said during a board meeting. “Essentially, what they did was extend it such that authority was with the regents and the president.”

“One mechanism would be for the [regent] board chair to say, ‘I’m directing you, in this instance, to stand down,’” Robinson said, “and the board will be exercising authority in this area.”

Regent John Perez told the Times that the regents retained the power to block UCLA’s move. “All options are on the table,” Perez said, “up to and including [blocking the deal] … We’re going to look at what all the different options look like and then the board will assert itself in terms of what its desired outcome is.”

State Gag Order Bills Increase for Higher Ed

State legislative proposals to restrict the freedom to teach and learn have increased by 250 percent in 2022 compared to last year, according to a report released today by PEN America, the free expression and literary organization.

Most of the bills focus on K-12 education, but 39 percent of bills have targeted colleges and universities, compared with 30 percent last year.

The bills generally focus on race and ban the teaching, for example, of critical race theory. But more bills would ban things related to LGBTQ issues. Last year, five bills banned these teachings, but this year 23 did so.

“Educators are under attack from legislators bent on depriving our children of an education that is open to a breadth of perspectives,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program and the lead author of the report. “Vibrant learning opportunities are essential for democratic citizenship to flourish. But this report confirms a grim reality: some elected leaders are marching schools backward, and trampling on students’ free expression in the process.”

University’s Facebook Page Hacked

The Facebook page of Thomas More University, a Roman Catholic institution in Kentucky, has been hacked. Instead of news from the university, the site has since Friday featured photographs of women with messages such as, “Can’t sleep without someone to cuddle with” or “I just rented a room that can accommodate 2 people but I'm alone so if you're looking for a place to stay hit me up.”

The university responded by creating a new Facebook page and posting this message: “The Thomas More University Facebook account Thomas More University was hacked. The university is doing everything we can to contact Facebook to help us resolve this issue and regain control of our page. In the meantime, we have developed this Facebook page Thomas More University so that our community can continue to interact with us on this social network platform and so that we can dispute the other page’s activity under our name. Of course we are frustrated by the incident, but we ask for your patience and grace as we work through this challenge.”

UCLA Lifts Indoor Mask Mandate

The University of California, Los Angeles, has lifted its indoor mask mandate, but the university still “strongly encouraged” people to wear a mask when indoors at UCLA.

A statement from UCLA said, “The severity of illness seems to be waning,” so “we are adjusting our campus protocols to better align with current public health conditions in line with the transitions that have already occurred at other academic institutions, and within the county and state.”

Masks are still required in health-care settings and on public transportation.

21,000 Fish Die in UC Davis Facility

The University of California, Davis announced the death of 21,000 fish at its Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture.

The deaths appear to be due to chlorine exposure, to which fish are especially sensitive. The fish were green and white sturgeon, as well as endangered Chinook salmon. Davis is studying ways to help the fish.

"There are many other facilities where UC Davis conducts aquatic research that were not impacted by this situation. While many of these facilities do not have similar potential for chlorine exposure, there are some that do, and we are going to evaluate risk at those facilities," said a statement by the university. "We know that many researchers, regulatory agencies, Native American tribes and other partners trust us to care for their aquatic species.  We will work hard to earn that trust by conducting a thorough review of our facilities, holding ourselves accountable for what happened, and taking steps to prevent it from happening ever again. We share the grief of the faculty, staff and students who worked to care for, study and conserve these animals."


Texas A&M Faculty: Shared Governance Isn't Working

The Faculty Senate at Texas A&M University approved a resolution this week that said “shared governance is no longer functioning as envisioned by faculty at Texas A&M University," The Texas Tribune reported.

Faculty largely blame President Kathy Banks.

“This is a matter of sentiment,” said Kathryn Falvo, a senator and history professor from Texas A&M Galveston, at a Monday meeting. “I’m hearing from a great deal of faculty and a great deal of students that there is a lack of trust in the administration.”

Banks, upon taking office last year, hired MGT Consulting to review A&M’s organizational structure and provide recommendations. In December, she announced 41 recommendations that she had accepted and would put into place. Faculty leaders say they should have been involved in those decisions.

The administration said that faculty have been involved. “It’s disappointing that this resolution doesn’t recognize the extensive faculty input that has been listened to on every major issue and change that has occurred in the last year,” said N.K. Anand, vice president for faculty affairs. “There have been multiple opportunities for faculty opinion to influence decisions. There simply is not a single example given of when both the spirit and the letter of the policy was not followed.”


Oberlin Doesn't Have to Pay $36M, at Least for Now

Oberlin College doesn't have to pay a bakery $36 million, for now, under an Ohio Supreme Court decision issued Tuesday, reported.

The case started in 2016, when Allyn Gibson caught three Black Oberlin students stealing wine from Gibson's Bakery, which is located near the college. The students claimed racism. The fallout led to student protests, elevated by then dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, who handed out fliers protesting the bakery, and Oberlin’s student government, which passed a resolution accusing the bakery of a history of racial discrimination.

In 2017, the bakery sued Oberlin, claiming the college had hurt its reputation.

In April, an Ohio appeals court upheld a verdict against the college.

The judge who initially heard the case had settled on a verdict of $25 million, plus $6 million for Gibson's lawyers. That amount has increased to $36 million with interest.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruling was only a few lines and contained no legal reasoning.

Oberlin has maintained that while it is pursuing further appeals, it should not have to pay.





Oklahoma Coach Resigns After He Said Slur to Players

Cale Gundy, the assistant head football coach of the University of Oklahoma, has resigned because he used a slur in reading from a player's iPad.

Gundy said that during a session with players, he noticed that a player wasn't paying attention. Gundy then went to see what that player had on his screen. "The word displayed had nothing to do with football. One particular word that I should never--under any circumstance--have uttered was on display on his screen," Gundy wrote on Twitter. "In the moment, I did not even realize what I was reading, and as soon as I did, I was horrified.... What I said was not malicious; it wasn't even intentional." (He did not specify the slur.)

He added that the team does "not deserve to be distracted by off-the-field matters.... Effectively immediately, I am stepping down."

Oklahoma's head coach, Brent Ventables wrote on Twitter that Gundy made the correct decision to resign. "He chose to read aloud to his players, not once but multiple times, a racially charged word that it objectionable to everyone," he said.



Tensions Remain With Grad Students at Indiana U

Graduate student workers at Indiana University at Bloomington remain angry about many of the terms of new contracts that raised minimum stipends from $18,000 to $22,000.

The raises were announced last week by the administration. The raises came after a graduate student strike that ended without any agreement on union recognition or terms of a contract.

But The Indianapolis Star reported that a new strike may be called in September over a range of issues. Among them: the speed (one week) with which students had to sign new contracts, graduate student duties in the contract and changes in faculty responsibilities that relate to supervising graduate students.


Faculty vs. Campus Police on Racial Profiling

More than 100 faculty members at California State University, Long Beach, have signed a letter backing Steven Osuna, a Latino associate professor of sociology, who has accused the campus police of racial profiling.

Osuna said campus police refused to let him back into his own office when he accidentally locked himself out of it. The officer said he was following campus policy. “Numerous white CSULB faculty members have shared that campus police have opened their office doors, in some cases without ever asking for identification,” the letter said.

The letter also said, “It is equally important to note that Dr. Osuna is an internationally renowned scholar, a highly decorated teacher, and a successful mentor of CSU students with expertise in the areas of critical criminology, racism, policing, and criminalization.”

The Statewide University Police Association, which represents officers at Cal State, sent a letter to the university's Board of Trustees accusing Osuna of misrepresenting what had happened, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Osuna tweeted in response, “The Statewide University Police Association (SUPA) is saying I should be investigated for ‘dishonesty and malicious intent’ for speaking up against racial profiling. This is clear intimidation and an attempt to silence my union and I.”

Berkeley Pauses Construction in People’s Park

The University of California, Berkeley, began a project in People’s Park Wednesday, but the university was forced “to pause construction work,” it said.

The university blamed “the destruction of construction materials, unlawful protest activity and violence on the part of some protesters” for the delay.

Further, the university said, “All construction personnel were withdrawn out of concern for their safety. In the course of preparing and planning for the start of construction, safety has been the university’s highest priority, and that remains the case now. In an effort to avoid further confrontation, law enforcement officers have also now withdrawn from the site. The campus will, in the days ahead, assess the situation in order to determine how best to proceed with construction of this urgently needed student housing project.”

The university won a court order last week that said it could start the project.

But Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, told the Los Angeles Times that Berkeley shouldn’t have tried to start the project. “The legal remedies haven’t been exhausted,” he said, noting that his group had asked a court of appeal to halt construction Wednesday morning.

Report Details Charges Against Michigan Hockey Coach

A report by the Washington, D.C., law firm WilmerHale has urged the University of Michigan to take action on allegations of misconduct by Mel Pearson, the head ice hockey coach, MLive reported.

Allegations in the report include:

  • Pearson told “students to lie on their COVID-19 tracing forms” ahead of the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament opener in North Dakota.
  • Pearson discriminated against female staffers and created “a toxic work environment for female support staff.”
  • Pearson retaliated against athletes for “raising concerns” about the hockey team’s culture.

Neither the university nor Pearson have commented on the report.

Florida A&M Investigates Graduate’s Photograph

Florida A&M University is facing criticism over an explicit photograph that an alumna took of herself on campus.

William Hudson Jr., the vice president of student affairs, posted a statement on Twitter that said, “The university is aware of the picture taken and is currently investigating the incident.”

Terica Williams posted a photo of herself by the university’s statue of a rattlesnake. She was naked except for some fake snakes attached to her head.

She posted this statement on Instagram: “Anybody who knows me knows that I’ve been dressing provocative my whole life. There’s a lot of assumptions that have came with me accepting my body. A lot of people questioned my capabilities and intelligence solely based on how I choose to dress. As I’m standing here with my master’s degree at the tender age of 24, I am the living proof that clothes do not define you. I encouraged every body to embrace their bodies and step outside social norms.”

The photograph may be found here.


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