Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 18, 2019

John Gauger, Liberty University's chief information officer, worked on a project a few years ago to manipulate two online polls by news sites at the behest of Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime fixer and personal lawyer, The Wall Street Journal reported. Gauger took on the $50,000 side gig for his digital marketing company, Redfinch Solutions. Cohen reportedly failed to pay most of the bill, however, having handed Gauger a bag of money containing $12,000 in cash and a glove belonging to a Brazilian professional fighter, according to the newspaper.

Liberty is a Virginia-based nonprofit and Christian institution with an online program that is one of the nation's largest. Its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., was an early supporter of then presidential candidate Donald Trump, and he has remained a vigorous and high-profile backer of Trump during his presidency.

January 18, 2019

The University of Oxford will not accept new donations or research funding from the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei amid concerns that its equipment could be used for espionage, the BBC reported. Oxford said that it will not at present pursue new funding opportunities with Huawei but that two existing research projects funded by Huawei would continue. Huawei has denied espionage-related allegations.

January 18, 2019

All of the so-called M7 or very elite business schools reported drops in M.B.A. applications, this year, according to a survey by Poets and Quants. The drops ranged from 2.6 percent at Columbia University to 8.2 percent at the University of Chicago. Despite these drops, the business schools are all reporting stellar statistics on students and graduates.

January 18, 2019

The Department of Education said Thursday it would extend the public comment period for a proposed Title IX sexual misconduct rule. Technical issues have made the website that accepts public comments on federal rules unavailable since Wednesday.

Politico first reported the issues on the site, regulations.gov, which a banner message blamed on the ongoing government shutdown before federal officials said a technical glitch was to blame.

"The department will extend the public comment period to ensure that the public will have had 60 days in total to submit comments on this proposed rule using the Federal eRulemaking Portal," said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department.

Comments on the new campus sexual misconduct rule were due by Jan. 28. The new closing date will be determined when the website is back online.

January 18, 2019

A former Columbia University undergraduate is suing the institution and Thomas Harford, former dean of students of the School of General Studies, for $60 million, alleging that Harford coerced her into a sexual relationship last summer and that Columbia failed to protect her from him. The student initially filed her lawsuit for $50 million in August as Jane Doe. She filed an amended complaint this week using her real name. The suit alleges that the student went to Harford for help after a traumatic event and that he subsequently manipulated her into a relationship with loosely veiled threats of violence and by using her need for scholarship funds as “bait.” The complaint also says that Columbia knew Harford had an alleged history of harassing women and that it retaliated against the student for complaining about the dean by forcing her to give up her campus housing while she took medical leave.

The university said in a statement that upon learning of the allegations against Harford in August, it immediately removed Harford from his position as dean and terminated his employment. Columbia “and its officials had no knowledge of the events prompting the complaint before they were officially reported to us,” it said. “Harford is prohibited from ever returning to our campus. These actions were taken in a matter of days, reflecting Columbia’s commitment to the safety and well-being of our students.” Harford could not immediately be reached for comment.

January 18, 2019

The American Bar Association’s accreditation arm plans later this month to make another push to raise the standards for bar-passage rates a law school must meet to retain its recognition.

The proposal would require that 75 percent of a law school’s graduates pass the bar exam in their state. The same proposal was rejected by the ABA’s general assembly two years ago. But the accrediting council has the authority to move ahead with the proposal even without broader support at ABA's Jan. 28 meeting.

“From the standpoint of protecting students, a school should be able to demonstrate it can get at least 75 percent of its students through a licensing exam that is the barrier to what they went and got their degree for,” said Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA’s section of legal education and admissions to the bar. “The goal here is to have a reasonable standard and have every school meet it.”

The proposal would also allow that a school could lose up to 20 percent of a class to attrition without failing ABA standards.

The number of students taking and passing the bar exam has been in decline for several years as the legal education market has contracted. At the same time, critics of legal education have put new scrutiny on programs of poor quality that produce students with serious debt and little chance of succeeding in the legal profession. And the ABA itself has recently cracked down on law programs, issuing more sanctions for programs with low admissions standards.

January 18, 2019

Duke University and a group of employees and retirees that were suing it over complaints about its 403(b) retirement plan have reached a settlement worth $10.65 million.

The plaintiffs filed suits in 2016 and 2018 in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of North Carolina alleging breach of fiduciary duty. They argued Duke did not fulfill its duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, forcing retirement plan participants to pay excessive fees for record keeping, administrative services and investment services. Duke denied breaching its fiduciary duty.

In addition to the creation of a $10.65 million settlement fund, Duke agreed to take several actions for a three-year period, according to the St. Louis-based law firm representing the plaintiffs, Schlichter Bogard & Denton. Those actions are to hire an independent consultant regarding bids for record-keeping services, make it easier for participants to transfer investments from frozen annuity accounts, analyze costs of different mutual fund share classes being considered for the plan and avoid using plan assets to pay salaries of employees working on the plan.

The suits were part of a spate of closely watched 403(b) lawsuits filed by the same law firm, which had filed cases over excessive fees in 401(k) plans.

January 18, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Md. Aynul Bari, assistant professor in the department of environmental and sustainable engineering at the University at Albany, explores the presence of air pollution in the home. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 17, 2019

Ashim Mitra has resigned his position as a tenured professor of pharmacy at the University of Missouri at Kansas City amid a university investigation of reports that he used graduate students from India for what one called "slave labor," doing yard work, taking care of Mitra's dog and other tasks, The Kansas City Star reported. Former students told the Star, which first reported the allegations, that they were pressured into performing this work. Mitra did not comment on his resignation, but he earlier denied wrongdoing.

January 17, 2019

The University of Denton may sound like a bargain, but the online "university" is attracting attention for its lack of real accreditation, lack of real facilities (its address is of a Denton, Tex., travel center not related to the institution) and its too-good-to-be-true offers. Pretty much anyone can earn a degree, for a fee, often within days. For $999, you can get every degree from an associate degree to a doctorate, all for one price. As The Denton Record-Chronicle noted, and Inside Higher Ed verified, the phone just rings and rings, without an answer. Denton has two genuine universities, Texas Woman's University and the University of North Texas, neither of which have any connection to the University of Denton. Leah Matthews of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission told the Record-Chronicle, "I haven’t seen a diploma mill with such a brazen online presence like this in a while."

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