Quick Takes: Affirmative Action Fight in Colo., Gay Couple Sues Hawaii, Mich. Settles Stadium Suit, Tax-Free Texts, Columbia Adds Aid, Hopkins President to Retire, Candidates Back Earmark Ban, Politicking on Loans, Beijing U. Wants to Ban Online Gossip

March 11, 2008
  • Opponents of affirmative action announced Monday that they believe they have more than enough signatures to place a proposed ban on the ballots in Colorado, The Denver Post reported. The ban, similar to those passed in California, Michigan and Washington State -- and to proposals for several other states this year -- would apply to public colleges and other state agencies. Supporters of the ban in Colorado said they have 128,744 signatures, far more than the 76,047 required, but defenders of affirmative action plan a series of challenges on both signatures and the language of the proposal.
  • Lambda Legal, a gay rights group, on Monday announced plans to sue the University of Hawaii at Manoa on behalf of a gay couple denied space in family housing. According to Lambda Legal, the couple lived in family housing last year, but was denied continued access with officials saying that the housing was reserved for married couples. The suit notes that the Hawaii Supreme Court, in a case on gay marriage, has ruled that the benefits of marriage may not be denied to gay couples. By forcing the couple to live off-campus, the partner who is a student is forced to pay higher rents and transportation costs he would otherwise not face. University officials told local reporters that they would have no comment until they see the suit.
  • The U.S. Justice Department, an advocacy group for veterans with disabilities and the University of Michigan on Monday announced the settlement of a suit that had charged the university with failure to provide sufficient access to its football stadium for people with disabilities. The settlement includes specific timetables for adding seats for people with disabilities and their companions, as well as plans to improve parking, restrooms and other facilities to make them more accessible.
  • The Utah Tax Commission has ruled that textbooks sold in college bookstores are part of the educational mission of colleges and thus are tax exempt. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the policy shift, effective April 1, will save about $60 per student a year, or $4.7 million for students statewide.
  • Columbia University is today announcing an expansion of financial aid, ending loans for students who are eligible for aid, The New York Times reported.
  • William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, announced Monday that he plans to retire at the end of the year, when he will have been in office more than 12 years. Brody will also be wrapping up a $3.2 billion fund-raising campaign at the time. As president, Brody has spoken out frequently about the needs of research universities and their role in the health care debate.
  • Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton announced Monday that they would co-sponsor Senate legislation that would ban all lawmaker sponsored "earmarks" (many of which flow to colleges and universities) from 2009 spending bills. The legislation, which is being sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), now has the support of all three major presidential candidates, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime crusader against earmarks, backed DeMint's legislation some time ago. In a news release, Obama said that reforms in the process of awarding earmarks, which are known derisively as pork barrel projects, have failed to fix a "broken" system. "We can no longer accept a process that doles out earmarks based on a member of Congress' seniority, rather than the merit of the project. We can no longer accept an earmarks process that has become so complicated to navigate that a municipality or nonprofit group has to hire high-priced D.C. lobbyists to do it. And we can no longer accept an earmarks process in which many of the projects being funded fail to address the real needs of our country." He said he favors DeMint's one-year moratorium and would not be requesting any earmarks for Illinois this year. "The jig's up on earmarks," DeMint said.
  • The banking industry has tried to walk a thin line in recent months as growing numbers of lenders have announced layoffs or plans to end or cut back on their student loan business. Lenders in the federal guaranteed student loan program have sought to assert at every chance possible that Congress went too far in the last two years in cutting subsidies for lenders, and that those cuts have had as much as the real-estate-related "credit crunch" to do with the woes of loan providers. But amid increasing calls from lenders for Congress to "do something" to shore up the industry, lenders have watched with some dismay as Congressional Democrats have responded by suggesting that the Education Department plan for the government's competing direct student loan program (which has lost market share in recent years) to pick up any slack left by departing lenders. (And some colleges appear to be responding to the shaky market: Pennsylvania State University announced Monday that it would switch to the direct loan program, "removing the uncertainty for our students," said Anna Griswold, assistant vice president and executive director of student aid at Penn State.) Monday the Consumer Bankers Association continued to walk the line, seeking both to reassure students and colleges and at the same time to send a slightly conflicting message to lawmakers. "[D]espite a series of negative developments that have increased their costs and reduced their margins, banks plan to continue making both [guaranteed] and private loans in academic year 2008-2009, Joe Belew, the association's president, said in a news release. Banks, he said, "have a decades-long commitment to the student loan business," and even as some lenders pull out, "some banks plan to expand their lending in the upcoming academic year to ensure that students have the funds they need." Still, Belew said, "the cuts to for-profit lenders imposed last year raise longer-term concerns about the capacity of banks to continue to expand lending to students, given other demands on their capital. For that reason, we are also asking Congress to reconsider some of the cuts passed in 2007."
  • So much for JuicyCampus expanding in China.... Beijing University is considering rules to ban students from spreading rumors or cursing online, Xinhua reported. The university may also consider ways to limit what professors can post online, following a dispute between two professors at Beijing Normal University in which one of the scholars was nicknamed "Professor Mudslinger."
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