Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 24, 2017

Charles Murray, the controversial social scientist who was shouted down when he tried to speak at Middlebury College recently, spoke without incident Thursday night at Columbia University. A webcast (image at right) of the talk showed him talking without interruption and taking questions from some who appeared critical and others who appeared supportive of his views. He received applause at the end of his prepared remarks and the question period. About 100 people were in the room.

Some at Columbia held a peaceful protest before his talk and posted photographs of their protest to social media.

March 24, 2017

The University of Cincinnati placed its College of Law dean on administrative leave Wednesday shortly after she blamed deficit-closing efforts for upsetting faculty members who had been organizing against her leadership.

Dean Jennifer Bard was placed on leave after just 21 months on the job. Peter E. Landgren, Cincinnati’s provost and interim senior vice president for academic affairs, announced the move in an email addressed to the College of Law community, saying he is firming up a transition plan for the college. He said his decision followed a “thorough evaluative process,” according to the email, which was posted by TaxProf Blog.

Bard was surprised by the move and is reviewing her legal options, she said in a statement, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. She said the law school had improved its bar passage rates, fund-raising, reputation and number of applicants under her leadership.

The development comes shortly after efforts to seek Bard’s removal by a group of at least nine of the UC College of Law’s roughly 40 faculty members became public. The Cincinnati Business Courier obtained emails from the faculty members in which they discussed holding a vote of no confidence in Bard as early as November 2016. Bard signed a six-month plan to “restore mutual trust and respect” with the faculty in January.

Bard had said she upset a small group of faculty members while making progress in cutting a multimillion-dollar deficit at the College of Law, and that faculty members tried to stop her by taking advantage of a leadership vacuum created by interim leaders at the university. Controversial savings proposals included consolidating the UC law library into the university library system, requiring pre-travel approval and requiring the submission of travel receipts. Bard was hired to eliminate a deficit at the law school, she told the Business Courier in a statement this week.

Bard was hired to become the law school’s dean under a five-year contract in 2015. She had been special assistant to the provost for academic engagement at Texas Tech University, where she directed the university’s J.D./M.D. program and its health law concentration program.

March 24, 2017

Tallahassee Community College wants to do away with its Faculty Senate now that the faculty is represented by a union, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. Jim Murdaugh, college president, is reportedly disbanding the senate at the end of the month, despite objections from faculty members who say the senate and union have different functions. Murdaugh wrote in an email to faculty members earlier this month that they should think about creating some other representative body to handle issues not addressed in union contracts, such as academic affairs and curricula.

“Under Florida law, the college is now required to deal exclusively with the [union] on all matters relating to wages, hours and working conditions,” he wrote. “Inasmuch as the [union] is now the official voice of faculty on those matters, the continuation of Faculty Senate and the reassigned time afforded to and stipends paid to the chair and chair-elect are no longer necessary.”

The campus chapter of the United Faculty of Florida is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Chapter president Jen Robinson, a professor of art history, told the Democrat that despite Murdaugh’s statement, many institutions operate with a union and a Faculty Senate. “You’re basically cutting off an avenue for any kind of academic discussion,” she said, noting the decision could have a disparate impact on part-time faculty members not included in the contract. “He’s taking away the voice of our adjuncts. I don’t know where they would go to address their issues.”

March 24, 2017

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday unveiled Gates Open Research, an open-access publishing platform designed exclusively for the foundation's grant recipients. The platform, which was developed by F1000 and is scheduled to launch in the third quarter of 2017, gives grant recipients another option for where to publish their work that complies with the foundation's open-access requirements. The requirements went into effect Jan. 1 and requires recipients to publish their research and data in an open-access journal or repository. The foundation has also created Chronos, a service that aggregates information about scholarly journals to help recipients find eligible journals.

March 24, 2017

Memos from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offer a first glimpse of what President Trump’s proposed “extreme vetting” of visa applicants will look like, Reuters and The New York Times reported Thursday. The memos direct consular officials to identify "populations warranting increased scrutiny" and to put applicants from these populations through more rigorous questioning. The memos also direct consular officials to check social media histories for all applicants who have been in areas controlled by the Islamic State.

State Department officials say the changes will likely lead to increases in visa denials and further slow the visa application process. Immigration attorneys also expressed concern about profiling of visa applicants based on religion or national origin.

"What this language effectively does is give the consular posts permission to step away from the focused factors they have spent years developing and revising, and instead broaden the search to large groups based on gross factors such as nationality and religion," Jay Gairson, a Seattle-based immigration attorney, told Reuters.

Trump has said he wants to improve vetting procedures to prevent the entry of terrorists into the United States. An executive order banning entry into the U.S. for citizens of six Muslim-majority countries remains blocked by the courts.

March 24, 2017

Two debt collectors said in separate statements this week that they will not assess collection fees on defaulted student loan borrowers who quickly enter repayment, despite new guidance from the Department of Education.

Both Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and TG said they would maintain existing practices of not assessing debt-collection fees when borrowers enter repayment plans within 60 days of a default notice.

The Department of Education issued a notice on March 16 that it would rescind Obama-era guidelines restricting loan servicers from charging those defaulted borrowers fees up to 16 percent of their total balance. The decision won't affect borrowers of federal direct loans but could impact individuals with federally guaranteed FFEL loans, which make up almost half of total outstanding student loan debt.

“Many student loan borrowers already have a difficult time managing their loan obligations," said TG President and CEO James Patterson. "At TG, we want to help them successfully repay their student loans. Adding more fees does not help their situation.”

March 24, 2017

Per-student tuition revenue increased sharply since the late 1980s at public and private nonprofit colleges and universities, even as state and local funding for the institutions declined, according to a new analysis from a Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland economist.

An economist at the Cleveland Fed, Peter Hinrichs, examined trends in inflation-adjusted revenue per student at four-year colleges and universities in the United States between 1987 and 2013. He found tuition revenue per student rose by $5,700 in that time frame at public institutions, to $9,300. At private universities, tuition revenue per student rose from about $12,000 per student to nearly $20,000 per student.

Hinrichs also found that funding from the federal government rose. Meanwhile, investment returns can be large and volatile, he found.

March 24, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Susan Davies, associate professor of school psychology at the University of Dayton, explores the impact of concussions off the field. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 23, 2017

Rick Perry, the U.S. energy secretary and former governor of Texas, on Wednesday published an essay (subscription required) in The Houston Chronicle questioning the recent student body election at Texas A&M University, his alma mater. The top vote getter was disqualified based on a violation of rules on campaign expenses. As a result, Bobby Brooks was elected. Brooks is the first openly gay student to be elected to the position, and the outcome resulted in numerous articles in Texas and elsewhere noting that accomplishment. Perry's op-ed suggests that the university wanted to promote an image of itself as diverse and so imposed a tougher penalty than it should have on the top vote getter. The headline of Perry's piece is: “Did A&M shun due process in the name of ‘diversity’?” and he suggests the election may have been “stolen.”

Amy Smith, Texas A&M's vice president of marketing and communications, denied Perry's accusations. In an interview with The Texas Tribune, she said students oversee the election process and set the rules. “I would say that we respectfully disagree with his assessment, and his understanding of the election rules of student body president elections doesn’t reflect the facts.”

Added Smith: “Honestly, we were just surprised to see that the secretary of energy would take the time to weigh in in detail, and we respectfully disagree with his assessment of what happened.”

March 23, 2017

Many students and others at Gustavus Adolphus College were shocked Monday to see posters telling "white Americans" to report anyone who does not have the legal right to be in the United States. "America is a white nation," said the posters. Students quickly posted images of the posters to social media (at right) and also ripped them down.

It turns out that the posters were the work of a student group at the college, the Diversity Leadership Council. The posters were intended to teach about racism and to fight racism, but the council posted a message to Facebook in which it acknowledged that the event didn't go as planned. "We understand that the language in these images may be hurtful -- we apologize to those who were negatively impacted," said that message.

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