Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 2, 2016

Hampshire College announced this morning that it has resumed flying the U.S. flag from a main flagpole on campus. The flag will fly at full staff.

The college has faced intense criticism -- and a protest by veterans last weekend -- since it announced last month that it would stop flying the U.S. flag (or any flag) after debate on the campus over the issue. During some of the period of debate, which followed the election of Donald Trump as president, the flag was flown at half-staff. On the night before Veterans Day, unidentified people burned the college's U.S. flag.

The photo above right was shot by the college this morning.

The following is the full statement of Jonathan Lash, president of the college, on the decision to resume flying the flag:

This morning we raised the United States flag to full staff at Hampshire College after a two-week discussion period about what the flag means to members of the Hampshire community. College leadership, including the Board of Trustees, had decided on Nov. 18 to lower the flag for a time to encourage uninhibited expression of deeply held viewpoints.

We are alarmed by the overt hate and threats, especially toward people in marginalized communities, which have escalated in recent weeks. We did not lower the flag to make a political statement. Nor did we intend to cause offense to veterans, military families or others for whom the flag represents service and sacrifice. We acted solely to facilitate much-needed dialogue on our campus about how to dismantle the bigotry that is prevalent in our society. We understand that many who hold the flag as a powerful symbol of national ideals and their highest aspirations for the country -- including members of our own community -- felt hurt by our decisions, and that we deeply regret.

The dialogue we have experienced so far is the first step of a process. Hampshire staff and faculty have led facilitated discussions, I have held multiple focus group sessions, and all of our students, faculty and staff have been invited to contribute their opinions, questions and perspectives about the U.S. flag. This is what free speech looks like. We believe in it, we will continue this work on campus and we will look for ways to engage with our neighbors in the wider community. We raise the flag now as a symbol of that freedom, and in hopes for justice and fairness for all.

At Hampshire, we are committed to living up to these principles:

  • To insist on diversity, inclusion and equity from our leaders and in our communities, and the right to think critically and to speak openly about the historical tensions that exist throughout the country.
  • To constructively and peacefully resist those who are opposing these values.
  • To actively and passionately work toward justice and positive change on our campus and in the world.

No less should be expected of any institution of higher learning.

December 2, 2016

A Nigerian-born Nobel-prize winning author who has taught at Cornell, Harvard and Yale Universities has thrown away his green card in protest of Donald J. Trump’s election win, The Independent reported. Wole Soyinka was the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1986.

Soyinka had previously pledged he would throw out his U.S. permanent residency permit and “start packing” if Trump were to win the presidency. “I have already done it, I have disengaged [from the United States]. I have done what I said I would do,” Soyinka reportedly said at a conference in Johannesburg. 

December 2, 2016

The College Board on Thursday announced a new process for people with disabilities to request test accommodations. Under the new system, most students who have been approved for test accommodations in high school will receive accommodations as long as their high school can answer two questions in the affirmative: “Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan?” and “Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?”

Many advocates for students with disabilities have complained in the past that such students should not have to go through an entire process when they have already done so in high school (and in many cases before that). The changes announced are among those such advocates have sought.

The new policy applies to a number of College Board tests, including the SAT and Advanced Placement exams.

December 2, 2016

Arizona State University will, starting this summer, help run HASTAC -- the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory -- an interdisciplinary academic social network, alongside Duke University and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The university will officially become an institutional partner on July 1, and its Nexus Lab for Digital Humanities and Computational Informatics will co-manage the 15,000-member organization, according to an announcement from HASTAC.

December 2, 2016

The average amount of debt per student at private universities rated by Moody’s Investors Service is declining, the ratings agency said in a new report released Thursday.

Debt levels are declining at private universities because those institutions are increasingly discounting tuition and absorbing more educational costs. In essence, the burden of affordability has shifted to universities as students and families remain price sensitive, Moody’s found. Students at wealthy private universities have lower debt levels on average because the institutions they attend have greater financial resources they can commit to priorities like meeting students’ full need or supporting need-blind admissions policies.

“Moody’s-rated private universities have lower debt per student than the national average because they have greater financial resources to support financial aid,” said Eva Bogaty, a Moody’s vice president and senior analyst, in a statement. “Nonetheless, we expect continued financial pressure for universities with more limited resources that need to discount tuition to stay competitive.”

Debt levels were still slightly lower for public university students than for private university students, but the gap is narrowing, Moody’s found. Public university students graduating with debt and with four-year degrees from a Moody’s-rated university in May 2014 would have had an average student debt burden of $27,056. Those who borrowed and graduated with four-year degrees from rated private universities would have seen average debt burdens of $27,806.

Moody’s also projected that growth in public university students’ debt will slow as state operating support stabilizes and tuition increases are limited. But it noted operating support will vary by state and that large cuts in state support could change the trends surrounding student debt.

The Moody’s report comes as student loan debt is under intense public and political scrutiny. Still, the ratings agency found that loans are not deterring demand at universities it rates.

Moody’s noted that default and delinquency rates are lower than the national average at institutions it rates, however. Institutions with low graduation and degree completion rates -- like for-profit colleges and certain community colleges -- have higher default rates and higher credit risks.

Moody's called student loan burden a modest credit risk for colleges and universities it rates.

December 2, 2016

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which seeks to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism so that the Education Department may consider it in investigating reports of religiously motivated campus crimes. The State Department defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The bill was proposed by Senators Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, to “ensure the Education Department has the necessary statutory tools at their disposal to investigate anti-Jewish incidents,” according to a news release. The senators say the act is not meant to infringe on any individual right protected under the First Amendment, but rather to address a recent uptick in hate crimes against Jewish students. The bill is supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Casey listed the following examples of anti-Semitism in his explanation of the bill:

  • Calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
  • Demonizing Israel by blaming it for all interreligious or political tensions
  • Judge Israel by a double standard that one would not apply to any other democratic nation

The bill has attracted criticism from groups including Palestine Legal and Jewish Voice for Peace, who say the proposed definition of anti-Semitism wrongly conflates any criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiments. The definition was rejected by the University of California earlier this year after similar complaints from free speech advocates, faculty and students. Kenneth Stern, who helped write the European Monitoring Center’s “working definition on anti-Semitism” on which the State Department definition is based, at that time argued that it would do “more harm than good” on college campuses.

December 2, 2016

Austin College has announced that it is dropping its requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores. The college will now accept, instead of test scores, an expository paper written for a high school course, with teacher comments and a final grade on the paper.

December 2, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Martin Krieger, professor of planning at the University of Southern California, discusses how to stay out of the path of danger in the academic world. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

December 1, 2016

A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday added $5 million to the $7.3 million a state jury has awarded Mike McQueary over his treatment by Pennsylvania State University after the scandal broke about Jerry Sandusky's abuse of many boys, the Associated Press reported. McQueary, then an assistant football coach, reported to Penn State that he saw what appeared to be abuse, but the university did not act on his information. Last month, a jury ordered Penn State to pay him $7.3 million for defamation and misrepresentation in the way he was treated as his career at the university subsequently ended. The judge added $4 million for lost wages and another $1 million for noneconomic damages. McQueary says he has been unable to find appropriate employment since leaving Penn State.

The university, which contests McQueary's claims in court, said it is reviewing its options.

December 1, 2016

San Francisco officials are engaged in a major political battle over whether the city can end tuition charges at City College of San Francisco, The San Francisco Examiner reported. City voters approved a measure in November that would create the funds that city officials said prior to the election would be used to make CCSF free. But voters rejected other tax proposals, and now the city is scrambling to make up for revenue it had been planning on but will not receive because those taxes were voted down. Some have suggested that the city can't afford to make tuition free for CCSF, but others say the pledge should be kept.


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