Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 5, 2020

Troy University in Alabama suspended John McCall, its campus police chief, and is conducting an internal investigation after McCall posted on Facebook that George Floyd played a role in his own death, AL.com reported.

The post has since been deleted. 

“These statements do not reflect the values of Troy University. We firmly reject any suggestion that George Floyd contributed to his death or that his actions justified the lethal force inflicted on him,” the university tweeted. “We support the calls for reform and an end to police violence that disproportionately targets our black citizens.”

June 5, 2020

Another professor is under fire for his social media comments about ongoing protests against police brutality, including saying that “black privilege is real.”

Charles Negy, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida, also wrote on Facebook, “Besides affirmative action, special scholarships and other set asides, being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege. But as a group, they’re missing out on much needed feedback.”

In response to public criticism that Negy’s comments are racist, Central Florida said it is reviewing his comments while “being mindful” of the First Amendment.

“Being actively anti-racist means calling out and confronting racist comments,” the university also said in a tweet. “We are aware of Charles Negy’s recent personal Twitter posts, which are completely counter to UCF’s values.”

Negy, who did not respond to a request for comment, has also said, “Here’s a suggestion to those who think they are being ‘screwed’ and oppressed in the U.S.: Stay in school. Be the best student possible. Avoid crime. Avoid gangs. Avoid unwanted pregnancy. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Amazing what a little common sense can do for your destiny.”

June 5, 2020

Syracuse University and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry are planning to routinely test sewage leaving residence halls to look for signs of the novel coronavirus before students become sick with COVID-19, reports Syracuse.com. The University of California, San Diego, also has announced plans to test wastewater on campus.

If testing finds a sudden spike in the sewage, Syracuse said, the university can test students in that residence hall for a potential outbreak. And the wastewater monitoring can help identify people with mild symptoms or who are asymptomatic.

“It will be an early warning system,” David Larsen, a professor of public health at Syracuse who is leading the project, told the newspaper. “We could see changes in the signal in the wastewater a week before we see a signal in the health-care system.”

June 5, 2020

Eighteen attorneys general filed a lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education Thursday in an effort to block the department’s final rule under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 from taking effect Aug. 14.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of another suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Both challenge the department’s regulations released May 6 that change how institutions receiving federal funding must respond to sexual assault and harassment on campus.

The lawsuit states that if permitted to take effect, the new regulations will “reverse decades of effort to end the corrosive effects of sexual harassment on equal access to education” and will require institutions to “completely overhaul” their current systems for addressing sexual misconduct in less than three months amid the coronavirus pandemic. Attorneys general from California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin have joined in on the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The attorneys general claim that several aspects of the new regulations, such as limiting Title IX to apply to sexual misconduct that occurs only within an “education program or activity” and requiring complainants to be attempting to enroll or be enrolled in a college’s program to pursue a report, are arbitrary and capricious.

“According to the federal government’s own data, sexual harassment against students remains pervasive and mostly unreported,” the lawsuit states. “With the Department’s final Rule, sexual harassment will not become less common -- but it will, as the Department acknowledges in the Rule, become even less regularly reported and remedied.”

In a tweet, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal of New Jersey said the attorneys general “won’t stand by as the federal government undermines the civil rights of our students.”

“School discipline should be fair and equitable regardless of the subject matter,” Grewal said. “Unfortunately, [the department] has singled out sexual harassment cases and made it harder to find the truth and do justice in those cases alone.”

Andrew Miltenberg, a prominent attorney who has defended hundreds of students accused of sexual misconduct in court, said in a statement that it’s unfortunate that the attorneys general are attempting to block the implementation of the new regulations, “and the ability for all students to have due process rights in Title IX hearings.”

“While not perfect, the new proposed federal guidelines go a long way to ensure a full and objective investigative process and a fair, impartial hearing process in which the accused has a full opportunity to be heard and to question his or her accuser, the evidence and statements by witnesses, as well as an objective, independent appeals process,” Miltenberg said.

June 5, 2020

California Lutheran University has adopted a "compassionate" Advanced Placement policy, giving any student who registered for an AP test this spring the full credit for the course (as if the students received a 5 on the AP exam). The policy was designed to reflect the fact that students did not have normal AP courses or exams this year. “We recognize this is not a normal school year, these were not normal AP courses, and these were not normal AP tests,” said Cal Lutheran sociology professor Adina Nack, who advocated for the policy. “University officials decided to be as compassionate and equitable as possible.”

June 5, 2020

Brown University’s graduate employee union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, reached a tentative contract agreement with the institution, it announced Thursday. The three-year deal includes a 3.7 percent stipend increase in the first year; a one-year appointment extension due to COVID-19 for third, fourth, fifth and many sixth-year students; and full reimbursement for out-of-pocket COVID-19 testing and medical treatment.

It also includes the establishment of a health reimbursement account and a channel for dealing with sexual harassment claims that is separate from the university’s process under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination. Students who are parents secured some additional family benefits.

“This contract brings much-needed security to graduate workers at Brown,” Kaity Hajdarovic, a fourth-year research assistant in neuroscience, said in a statement. “Importantly, in addition to securing COVID-19 work extensions for the majority of our members, we’ve won increased pay, protections against unfair workloads, a real grievance procedure and increased financial support for health care.”

Brown said in a statement that “discussions with the union have been mutually collegial, respectful and productive, despite different perspectives on some topics and the complexity of issues negotiated, especially given the unexpected impact of culminating the process during a global health crisis.”

June 5, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Scripps College Week, Sean Flynn, professor of economics, suggests some ways to cut the cost of health care in the U.S. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 4, 2020

Higher education enrollments could increase between 2 and 4 percent in fall 2020, according to a new report by Moody’s Investors Service. The new forecast follows past enrollment trends during economic downturns and recessions.

“The countercyclical nature of enrollment for both traditional-aged and older students typically yields gains when unemployment grows and students seek to broaden their skill set,” a press release said.

But even if enrollment increases, net tuition revenue and other student revenue for the 2021 fiscal year will likely decline between 5 and 13 percent, depending on student demand, affordability and the severity of the economic downturn, the report says.

“Factors such as a potential new wave of the coronavirus and students deferring a year to get the full on-campus experience stand to curb the potential enrollment increases this fall,” Dennis Gephardt, vice president at Moody’s and lead author of the report, said in a statement.

“A blend of varying degrees of student demand and affordability with the weakened economy as a backdrop will drive the drop-off in various revenue sources,” Gephardt wrote.

The report also says that market share will likely shift to favor lower-priced higher education options, like community colleges. For lower-profile, higher-priced colleges that are heavily dependent on tuition revenue, “difficulties will accelerate.”

June 4, 2020

Fifteen House and Senate Democrats are urging congressional leaders to include $1 billion in the next coronavirus stimulus package to help low-income college and university students be able to pay for access to the internet.

“As colleges and universities across the country have transitioned to distance learning to limit the spread of coronavirus, many students who relied on campus resources are struggling to continue their education from home,” the Democrats wrote in a letter spearheaded by Senator Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, of California.

“One of the biggest barriers for students of color, students in rural areas and other disadvantaged students is lack of access to reliable and affordable internet connectivity, equipment required for connectivity, and devices. These are all required to participate in distance learning,” the letter said. It noted that even before the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, only 66 percent of black households, 61 percent of Hispanic households and 63 percent of rural households had access to broadband.

A bill introduced in May by Klobuchar and Democratic senators Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii; Gary Peters, of Michigan; and Jacky Rosen, of Nevada, would allow the money to be used for internet access and equipment like laptops.

June 4, 2020

Michigan State University has stated it will not pay an undisclosed ransom to hackers who are threatening to publish stolen sensitive information.

The hack is thought to have taken place on Memorial Day and was isolated to the university’s physics and astronomy department. Impacted servers and workstations were quickly taken off-line, according to a statement published Wednesday.

“First and foremost, our priority is determining what information was compromised and then working with anyone who may have been affected to provide them with the appropriate support,” said Melissa Woo, chief information officer at the university, in the statement. “The safety and security of our IT systems and the people who use them are of paramount importance to MSU.”

The stolen information is thought to include student personal information and financial documents. Columbia College of Chicago and the University of California, San Francisco, have also been targeted, according to Twitter user Ransom Leaks.

Successful ransomware attacks are relatively unusual in higher ed, but several colleges were badly impacted by attacks last summer. Institutions typically do not disclose whether or not they agree to pay hackers’ ransom demands.

MSU wants to send a message that it will not play ball with criminals. “Paying cyber-intrusion ransoms perpetuates these crimes and provides an opportunity for the group to live another day and prey upon another victim,” said Kelly Roudebush, chief of the MSU police department.

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