Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 17, 2018

When word spread last month that John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s Pizza, had used a racial slur, many colleges said that they would remove his name from centers that were created with his donations. But Ball State University, his alma mater, did not do so and said it would keep his name on the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

But on Thursday, the board of Ball State announced that it had voted to remove Schnatter's name from the institute and from an endowed chair. Further, gifts for the institute will be returned to Schnatter's family foundation.

A statement from the board said, "The Board of Trustees strongly condemns racism, both implicit and explicit. Our condemnation extends to include John Schnatter’s comments that are the subject of controversy and have no place in our society. The board had hoped that the situation would provide a learning opportunity regarding race relations and critical thinking. We respect and appreciate that John desired to engage with our students and campus community and otherwise continue to be supportive of Ball State. From the board’s perspective, our university was presented with a chance to have a healthy and open conversation that could lead to better understanding of issues facing our society. Notwithstanding the board’s strong belief in the power of conversation, President [Geoffrey S.] Mearns has advised us that such discussions with John and other good faith gestures would not be well received or effective, as long as his name remains on the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. Unfortunately, the response from some on campus and the current political climate in our nation makes the meaningful progress we desire very challenging. At the same time, the board does not wish to risk that others will have a false impression that Ball State is not fully committed to a welcoming and inclusive campus for all."

August 17, 2018

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents announced Friday evening that the system has taken over the investigation of a student death and the culture of the football program at the system's College Park campus.

Officials at College Park had said that a commission would evaluate the program, but the system is now taking over that investigation. "Today’s actions will allow the USM to provide guidance from the findings of the investigations to all system institutions," said a statement from the system. The announcement followed a four-hour special meeting of the board.

The death of a football player in June was followed more recently by a devastating report by ESPN detailing a "toxic" culture in the football program. The report indicated that football players endured an environment in coaches hurled small weights at them, along with insults. In one case a player said he vomited after the coaching staff forced him to overeat.

Earlier this week a football strength and conditioning coach resigned.

August 17, 2018

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into allegations against a late Ohio State University doctor accused of sexual assault.

Ohio State in April announced its investigation into Dr. Richard Strauss, a former team physician who ended his own life in 2005. The university said it had received reports of sexual misconduct from male alumni in 14 different sports, among them baseball, cheerleading, cross country, fencing, football, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer and wrestling.

Former athletes have accused Strauss of molesting them and alleged that his behavior was an open secret among athletes and staffers at Ohio State.

Strauss was a team physician for 14 years and then briefly worked in the health center.

OCR will investigate whether Ohio State is responding “promptly and equitably” to the complaints of former students, including accusations that university employees knew or should have known about Strauss’s misconduct and allowed the abuse to continue, according to a university statement.

“We welcome the involvement and careful oversight of OCR and look forward to providing any information we can,” said Gates Garrity-Rokous, Ohio State vice president and chief compliance officer. “We responded promptly and appropriately to the allegations received in April about Dr. Strauss. We are confident in the independence and thoroughness of the investigation we launched then as well as our ongoing commitment to transparency.”

The case has made national headlines in part because U.S. Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and founder of the House Freedom Caucus, was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1986 to 1994, during Strauss's tenure. A few ex-wrestlers have accused the congressman of failing to stop the abuse.

Jordan has denied knowing anything about Strauss’s conduct. ​Ian Fury, Jordan's spokesman, told Inside Higher Ed last month that the congressman "never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse, and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as a coach at Ohio State."

Dunyasha Yetts, a former Ohio State wrestler, told NBC last month that he and teammates talked to Jordan about Strauss many times. “For God’s sake, Strauss’s locker was right next to Jordan’s and Jordan even said he’d kill him if he tried anything with him,” Yetts said.

Fury said Jordan would be willing to assist investigators in any way possible, “because if what is alleged is true, the victims deserve a full investigation and justice.”

Ohio State is asking anyone with information about Strauss to email the law firm Perkins Coie LLP at osu@perkinscoie.com. The firm is conducting an independent investigation and to date has interviewed more than 200 people, the university said.

August 17, 2018

University of Idaho athletics director Rob Spear has been fired amid allegations his department mishandled complaints of sexual misconduct.

The State Board of Education fired Spear Thursday after placing him on leave in April.

Investigators hired by the university found that he mishandled an accusation of sexual assault against a football player in 2013. Investigators looked into complaints spanning the 2012-13 academic year.

At least three women, two of them university athletes, had filed complaints against football player Jahrie Level in 2012-13, the Idaho Statesman reported. The university and Spear acknowledged that the university’s policies on sexual assault were not followed when one of the women, a diver, accused Level of sexual assault. Level was eventually dismissed from the team after surveillance video surfaced that confirmed the diver’s accusations.

The university placed diving coach Jim Southerland on paid administrative leave in April after an interim suspension by the U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Diving, the Statesman reported.

Spear has said the university maintains confusing policies and doesn't do enough training in federal gender antidiscrimination laws, but the university's student senate called for his resignation in April.

Last May, 14 members of the university's athletics booster group asked the board to fire Chuck Staben, the university’s president, saying his "lack of leadership, mismanagement and poor policy decisions have damaged the relationship between the administration of the University of Idaho and its faculty, students, alumni, and the good citizens of the state of Idaho." They cited his handling of Spear's case among several complaints.

The state board in May said it wouldn’t renew Staben's contract beyond 2018-19.

August 17, 2018

The parents of a Louisiana State University fraternity pledge who died last year from a hazing-related alcohol overdose have sued the institution and representatives of the fraternity, with an unusual argument that the university violated a federal gender antidiscrimination law.

First-year student Maxwell Gruver, 18, died in September after being forced to drink so much that he had a blood alcohol level of .495, more than six times the legal intoxication limit in most states. Gruver was asked questions about the fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, and with incorrect answers, he was made to “take a pull” from a bottle of potent alcohol. By midnight, Gruver was so intoxicated that other fraternity members laid him down on a couch and left him, checking on him periodically until about 3 a.m.

When they checked on him later that morning, he had a weak pulse and was barely breathing, according to news reports.

Gruver’s parents filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday alleging that the university’s failure to stop the hazing was “driven by a broken model of self-governance and outdated gender stereotypes about young men engaging in masculine rites of passage,” which violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, according to a statement from the law firm representing the family, the Fierberg National Law Group.

The family alleges that the university treats hazing rituals among fraternities less seriously than it does those among sororities.

“We refuse to accept that the events that caused Max’s death can be explained away as ‘boys being boys,’” the Gruvers said in a statement. “That notion is deeply offensive and wrong-headed. LSU and Phi Delt knew dangerous hazing was taking place at Phi Delt’s LSU chapter for years, yet they continued to allow the chapter and its members to investigate and police themselves. This inaction allowed dangerous hazing traditions at the chapter to persist. We’ve lost Max as result of those hazing traditions, and his loss has created a devastating impact that reaches not just us, but Max's siblings, friends and all who knew him. Until institutions and national fraternities begin treating the hazing of young men as the serious offense that is, with real consequences for members and local chapters that engage in it, hazing and other dangerous misconduct at fraternities will continue. And each year, more families like ours will have to suffer through these horrific tragedies.”

The parents are seeking $25 million in damages.

Louisiana State spokesman Ernie Ballard provided a statement on behalf of the university, which had suspended the fraternity:

The loss of Maxwell Gruver was a tragedy for the Gruver family and the entire LSU community. Since Max’s untimely death, LSU has worked to develop and implement new policies and practices to better protect all of our students. We are now implementing those changes and are working to educate each and every one of our Greek leaders, Greek students and others involved in student organizations. LSU supported the Gruver’s [sic] efforts to criminalize hazing and ensure that there were harsher penalties for hazing in Louisiana. Our Greek Life Task Force and Implementation Committee have put new measures in place for the start of the fall semester.

To further address the issue nationwide, LSU has joined with leaders from Penn State University and Florida State University to recommend new standards. The time has come for the national fraternities to support the universities and engage their membership to discourage dangerous behavior going forward.

August 17, 2018

Three universities in Chile, Colombia and Mexico will make all of the open online courses they offer on the Coursera platform available to one another's students at no charge, as part of a new collaboration between them. Under the arrangement, known as La Tríada, Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile will make a combined 100 courses available to their collective 150,000 or so on-campus students.

The CEO of Coursera, Jeff Maggioncalda, said in a blog post that the collaboration represented the first multi-university experiment involving the online platform's program that allows its partner colleges to make their courses freely available to students and others on campus.

August 17, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Washington College Week, Jennie Carr, assistant professor of biology at Washington College, discusses her research on what determines the success or failure of a bird’s nest. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

August 16, 2018

The University of Akron on Wednesday announced that it is terminating 19 percent of its degree tracks following a comprehensive review of academic programs. New admission to the affected tracks is suspended but current students will be able to finish their programs. Programs cut include bachelor’s degrees in art history, French, geography, math and physics, along with master’s degrees in history, physics, sociology and Spanish. The university said it based its decision on program enrollment and number of degrees conferred in recent years, as well as any “duplication” of well supported programs at other, nearby institutions. Just five percent of students are admitted to the affected programs, the university said. No elimination of full-time faculty or staff is planned. The university also said it was investing in areas of strength identified in the review, such as polymers, dance, cybersecurity and nursing. Akron will hire 31 full-time faculty members, including 23 tenure-track instructors and a contract professional, to support the expansion of these programs. Earlier this year, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point announced it was cutting 13 majors, such as those in French, geography, German, philosophy, political science and sociology.

August 16, 2018

The University of North Florida will close its Confucius Institute, a center of Chinese language education funded by the Chinese government, in February 2019 after a six-month transition period. UNF is at least the third university to announce plans to close its Confucius Institute this year as the institutes have come under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers concerned about Chinese government influence activities.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, had sent UNF and other Florida colleges a letter earlier this year urging them to close their Confucius Institutes, which he described as “Chinese-run institutes that use the teaching of Chinese language and culture as a tool to expand the political influence of the [People's Republic of China].”

“These institutes are overseen by a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education, and are instructed to only teach versions of Chinese history, culture or current events that are explicitly approved by the Chinese government and Communist Party,” Rubio wrote.

UNF’s brief announcement says its decision to close the institute after a six-month transition period followed a review of the CI’s activities.

“After reviewing the classes, activities and events sponsored over the past four years and comparing them with the mission and goals of the university, it was determined that they weren't aligned,” says the statement, which was published in a newsletter for faculty and staff. A UNF media relations representative did not return requests for further comment.

Reached by phone, the director of UNF's Confucius Institute, Ronghua Ouyang, declined to comment. He referred questions to Joanne Davis, a member of the Confucius Institute board and part-time French instructor at UNF who formerly served as supervisor of world languages for the Duval County Public Schools. Many Confucius Institutes, like UNF’s, are involved in outreach to local K-12 schools.

"I have served as supervisor of world languages for the Duval County Public Schools, and we have been the recipient of, at this point it’s five Confucius Institute teachers for the elementary, middle and high school levels. They have done a superb job. This year it was announced that Duval County Public Schools has a $60 million deficit, and it would be very, very challenging to have the caliber of Chinese program that we have in our schools [otherwise], so it’s been a tremendous gift," Davis said.

"I've had the privilege to work intimately with the Confucius teachers on curriculum and lesson plans. I’ve observed them; I support them. I’ve been in the classroom a great deal, probably more than anyone, and I have never observed a political agenda of any kind. There's never a discussion of politics, and the teachers have been extremely skilled," Davis said.

Confucius Institutes have been controversial on U.S. campuses. Many educators have welcomed the resources they bring to the table for Chinese language education and for cultural exchange activities, but others have expressed concern about the academic freedom implications of universities ceding control over curricular matters and the hiring of instructors to an entity of the Chinese government. In 2014 the American Association of University Professors recommended that colleges close their institutes unless they could renegotiate their contracts with the Chinese government to ensure "unilateral control … over all academic matters" and academic freedom rights for CI teachers. The AAUP also urged colleges with Confucius Institutes to make their agreements for the institutes public.

 

August 16, 2018

Because they make up everything! Love a bad science joke? A new study of undergraduates in 25 different science courses says it’s OK, even beneficial, to crack it. The study, in PLOS ONE, says that while instructor humor has been shown to positively impact student learning, no study has explored humor in college science classrooms in particular. So the authors surveyed students about their perceptions of classroom humor, yielding 1,637 responses. About 99 percent of students said they appreciate instructor humor and that it positively affects the classroom atmosphere, improves student experiences in class and enhances the student-instructor relationship. But offensive humor tends to negatively impact instructor relatability and a student’s sense of belonging, the researchers also found. Jokes about science, college and television were found to be universally funny and inoffensive. Jokes about social identities were found to be most offensive, especially among women.

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