Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 26, 2017

The University of Phoenix announced Tuesday that it has hired Peter Cohen as the university's president. Cohen arrives from McGraw-Hill Education, where he most recently has been the company's executive vice president. He previously was president of Pearson Education's school division.

Phoenix is a large for-profit chain that in recent years has struggled with slumping student enrollment and revenue. In addition, last year the university disclosed that some of its academic programs do not pass the federal government's gainful-employment rule.

Also last year, Apollo Education Group, Phoenix's holding company, announced it would eliminate the use of mandatory arbitration clauses in student enrollment agreements as part of a broader effort to improve student graduation and default rates. Apollo also cut most of its associate degree programs and the use of third-party marketing.

"At every step in my career, I have sought ways to make education more engaging, accessible and impactful," Cohen said in a written statement. "It’s a thrill and an honor to continue pursuing this goal at University of Phoenix, a flagship institution of higher education."

Cohen follows Timothy Slottow, a former official at the University of Michigan who led Phoenix for about three years before stepping down last month.

Apollo in February was purchased by a group of private investors for $1.14 billion. The deal was approved by the federal government and an accreditor amid some controversy, in part because of the role of Tony Miller, a former official in the Obama administration's Education Department. Miller is COO and a partner of the Vistria Group, one of Apollo's new owners, and is now chairman of the company's board.

April 26, 2017

The president and chair of the Board of Regents of the University of California publicly disputed several findings of a harshly critical draft audit released Tuesday by the California State Auditor.

The audit of the university president's office, which is equivalent to the system office in many states, asserted that it "failed to disclose tens of millions in surplus funds" -- much of which the auditor said had been derived from campuses that might have spent the money on students -- and engaged in "misleading" budget practices. (The issue of public university reserves has been raised frequently in recent years.) The auditor also sharply criticized the California system's spending on administrative salaries and benefits and said the university president's office "intentionally interfered" with the auditor's work.

"The rising cost of higher education in the state and nationwide places an important responsibility on public universities to make fiscally prudent decisions that best serve the financially burdened students and families who help to provide for their support," the audit stated. "Nonetheless, over the past five years, the University of California Office of the President has made decisions that redirected funds away from the university’s fulfillment of its role as the state’s primary academic research institution and toward other priorities."

In letters to the auditor, UC's president, Janet Napolitano, and leaders of the UC board took issue with the findings. "The report fundamentally and unfairly mischaracterizes [the university's] budget processes and practices in a way that does not accurately capture our current operations nor our efforts and plans for continued improvement," Napolitano wrote. She specifically complained that the auditor greatly inflated the size of the system's reserves and rejected suggestions that the Board of Regents was not sufficiently overseeing the president's office.

April 26, 2017

Prior to the visit of Charles Murray to Middlebury -- where he was shouted down by students -- the political science department at the college was criticized by Murray critics on campus for agreeing to co-sponsor the talk. At the time, the department said that it simply agreed to co-sponsor events that related to political science, and that doing so was not an endorsement of Murray.

Now the chair of political science is apologizing for agreeing without wide consultation to co-sponsor the event.

"Last week, I apologized to my departmental colleagues for this closed decision-making process, and I apologize now to the broader Middlebury community," said a letter from the chair, Bertram Johnson, published in the student newspaper, The Middlebury Campus. "The short amount of time between when the event became public and when it occurred gave all of us scant opportunity to listen to and understand alternative points of view. Most importantly, and to my deep regret, it contributed to a feeling of voicelessness that many already experience on this campus, and it contributed to the very real pain that many people -- particularly people of color -- have felt as a result of this event."

April 26, 2017

An assistant professor of aviation technology at Indiana State University in Terre Haute was arrested Monday on charges of obstruction of justice and harassment, RTV 6-ABC reported. Azhar Hussain is accused of sending emails containing anti-Muslim messages and threats to members of the campus community -- and naming himself as a target. Campus police say that Hussain, who recently learned that he would not be reappointed to his position beyond 2018, also reported an alleged assault on his person last month. "Based upon the investigation, it is our belief that Hussain was trying to gain sympathy by becoming a victim of anti-Muslim threats, which he had created," Joseph Newport, chief of campus police, said in a statement. Hussain has been suspended from teaching, according to the university.

April 26, 2017

Inside Higher Ed is pleased to release today our latest print-on-demand compilation, "Teaching With Technology," which includes articles related to a range of ideas and colleges. You may download the booklet, free, here. And you may sign up here for a free webinar on the themes of the booklet on Tuesday, May 23, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

April 26, 2017

The House Veterans Affairs Committee this week postponed a planned hearing on potential updates to the GI Bill amid growing opposition to a proposal that would require new service members to pay into the GI Bill for future benefits.

The proposal -- reported last week in military and veterans' news outlets -- was being crafted by the office of Tennessee Republican Phil Roe, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. News of the proposal led to backlash from veterans' organizations even as one group backed the idea.

The proposed buy-in requirement would deduct $100 from new enlistees' pay each month for two years to receive education benefits. Late last week, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Democrat, sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan calling the proposal a "tax on veterans." And Democratic members of the veterans affairs committee said the buy-in would essentially be a reduction in pay.

“We commend Chairman Roe for postponing the legislative hearing where this legislation was scheduled to be debated," the statement read. "There are important decisions to be made as we work together to update and improve the GI Bill to best serve America’s future heroes. However, with American men and women in uniform stationed and engaged around the world, we should be having a robust debate in Congress about how we can best honor their sacrifice, not asking them to sacrifice more.”

April 26, 2017

A newly signed West Virginia bill cuts the authority of the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission, a move backers say will give local campuses more decision-making flexibility and increase efficiency as potential budget cuts loom over public higher education in the state.

Governor Jim Justice signed the bill Tuesday, according to WAJR.com. It gives West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine more power over their hiring, firing and operations. It also could allow them to avoid some fees.

Presidents at the three universities supported the legislation, saying it aligns the state with others where large public universities gained greater autonomy as state funding fell for higher education.

April 26, 2017

Mary Beckerle was reinstated Tuesday to her position as director and CEO of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Beckerle was fired suddenly via email last week, angering faculty members and the prominent Huntsman family of donors. She’ll now report directly to David Pershing, university president, according to the Tribune, in an agreement that walls her off from Vivian Lee, senior vice president of health sciences and CEO of university health care.

Kathy Wilets, university spokesperson, said the announcement "only changes the reporting structure,” between the cancer center and other medical facilities, however. "We continue to be an integrated system with shared clinical and research resources.” Lee declined requests for comment but Jon Huntsman, Sr. told the Tribune that she has previously expressed a desire to combine the cash-rich institute and the university’s medical school so the former would be a campus research facility. "I told her not on her life," Huntsman said.

April 26, 2017

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Pac-12 Conference infringed on labor laws and thus owed money to a former Division I football player.

The suit, filed by ex-University of Southern California football player Lamar Dawson, represents the continued legal battle to redefine college athletes as employees and secure them compensation.

California Judge Richard Seeborg threw out Dawson’s case Tuesday, writing that the U.S. Department of Labor has not historically considered athletes employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which Dawson had alleged the NCAA and Pac-12 violated, along with the California labor code.

Seeborg wrote in his order that he was persuaded by a similar case in the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided “the long tradition of amateurism in college sports, by definition, shows that student athletes -- like all amateur athletes -- participate in their sports for reasons wholly unrelated to immediate compensation.”

Multiple courts have found that student athletes are not employees, Seeborg wrote.

Dawson argued that the Seventh Circuit case concerned University of Pennsylvania track and field athletes, who were not bringing in the same “massive revenues” as a Division I football team. He likened his team and others that generate revenue for institutions to a work-study program.

But Seeborg, too, rejected this, noting that the federal labor law does not distinguish between sports that rake in money for an institution and those that do not.

“There is a difference between work-study programs, which exist for the benefit of the school, and football programs, which exist for the benefit of students and, in some limited circumstances, also benefit the school,” Seeborg wrote.

April 26, 2017

A report released Tuesday by the Science Coalition identifies 102 companies whose creation was fueled by competitive federal research grants from agencies like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

Those companies received about $265 million in public investment over multiple decades and employ 8,900 workers across the country, the report finds. An accompanying database includes profiles of each company.

"If Washington, D.C., is serious about creating good jobs, producing American goods and keeping the U.S. ahead of our international competitors, then, as this report shows, continued strong and steady funding for basic scientific research is a wise investment," said Glynda Becker, president of the Science Coalition.

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