Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 22, 2018

A federal indictment of a Florida businessman says that, among other things, he bribed the then head coach of the University of Pennsylvania basketball team to help the businessman's son be admitted to the university, Bloomberg reported. The son was subsequently admitted to Penn and is a rising senior there. While the son played basketball in high school, he has not played at Penn. The bribe was reportedly for the coach to designate the student as a recruited athlete, which would greatly improve an applicant's chances of being admitted to Penn.

The coach is Jerome Allen, who led the Penn program for six years and is now assistant coach of the Boston Celtics. The businessman is Philip Esformes. The indictment says that he gave Allen $74,000 in the form of cash, a recruiting trip to Miami and rides on a private jet. Esformes faces a series of charges, some previously filed, related to health-care fraud, money laundering and other alleged cases of bribery. Penn, Allen and the Celtics did not respond to requests for comment.

Esformes has denied wrongdoing. His lawyer told Bloomberg that no bribes led to Penn's admission of Morris Esformes, the son. And he noted that Morris has been successful academically at Penn. But the lawyer acknowledged that the senior Esformes had made payments to Allen. “His father hired the coach when Mo was a high school sophomore to help Mo improve his game, as many parents do when their kids show athletic promise,” the lawyer said.

July 20, 2018

Officials of Clayton, Mo., issued a statement Thursday apologizing for how the city's police department treated 10 black freshmen at Washington University in St. Louis. Authorities, without evidence, suspected the students of leaving a restaurant without paying. Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of the university, arranged for meetings this week between some of the students and city officials. Students said that they felt humiliated and targeted because of their race. In a statement, Wrighton said, "I do not know, in my lifetime, if I will see a day when young African-Americans aren’t counseled by their parents to be cautious of the police out of fear that something could go wrong. However, I am hopeful that by speaking up and speaking out and committing ourselves to change -- on our campuses, in Clayton and in the surrounding St. Louis region -- we can make progress toward that day."

Craig Owens, the city manager for Clayton, issued a statement as well. "In hindsight, it is clear to us that we mishandled the interaction with these 10 Washington University students and lacked sensitivity about their everyday reality because of how racial bias affects their lives. For that, on behalf of the City of Clayton, we sincerely apologize. Our police department has a duty to protect the businesses and citizens of Clayton, including the Washington University students who reside here. We intend to honor that duty. We understand, however, that what is at question is how we go about doing that. On July 7, with these 10 students, we did not carry out our duty in a way that demonstrates we act without bias."

July 20, 2018

Florida State University has announced plans to seek legislative approval to change the name of its law school building and to move a statue, but not to change another building name that some students would like to see changed.

John Thrasher, president of Florida State, said that he would seek legislative permission to change the name of B. K. Roberts Hall, which houses the law school. Roberts played a key role in creating the law school, but he was also a judge who wrote decisions throughout the 1950s that upheld segregation. Thrasher said keeping the name was inconsistent with the values of the university and its law school.

However, Thrasher is opting not to change the name of Eppes Hall (right), which honors Francis Eppes VII, the grandson of Thomas Jefferson, who played a role (although the exact nature of the role is subject to debate) in the creation of Florida State. Eppes was also a slave owner. Thrasher said that the slave connection should be noted, but the building name should remain because of the "significant contributions" made by Eppes to Florida State. At the same time, Thrasher said that a statue of Eppes should be moved from its prominent location and that information should be added to the statue noting that Eppes owned slaves and served as a justice of the peace who oversaw the capture of escaped slaves.

July 20, 2018

A new study challenges the belief of many college students that medications for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can help those without the disorder study and learn more effectively. In fact, the study finds that when healthy students use these drugs, cognition may not be improved, and, in many cases, it is worsened. The study -- by researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Brown University -- appeared in the journal Pharmacy.

July 20, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Sean Nordt, a professor of pharmacy at Chapman University, looks into the effect energy drinks have on the teens who consume them regularly. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

July 19, 2018

Gerald Benjamin, distinguished professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz, apologized Wednesday for comments he made about a local congressional race in an interview with The New York Times. In the interview, Benjamin suggested that Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado’s past as a rapper would hurt him in terms of votes. “Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?” Benjamin was quoted as saying. “People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture.”

Delgado, who is black, told the Times that ongoing criticism of his music was an attempt to “otherize” him, and many readers condemned Benjamin’s comments as racist. Donald P. Christian, New Paltz’s president, and Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, the university’s chief diversity officer, criticized Benjamin’s comments in an all-campus email after the article appeared online Tuesday, saying, “We are disappointed that such language would come from a campus leader and ambassador of the college and reaffirm that the quotes do not reflect our institutional values of inclusivity and respect.” The expectation of “any member of this community is that they be mindful of the impact of their speech on others and understand that the consequences of that speech may have unintended and long-lasting negative effects,” they said.

Benjamin said in a separate statement that he has a “deep attachment to the school and the diverse community we have built here” and that he was “very sorry for any unintended distress caused by my remarks.” Acknowledging that his comments had been interpreted as racist, Benjamin added, “I had no racist intent but understand the impact of those remarks, and regret having made them.”

July 19, 2018

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's football coach, Larry Fedora (left), on Wednesday said the sport is “under attack” from safety advocates, with long-term stakes moving far beyond the playing field.

“I fear the game will be pushed so far from what we know that we won't recognize it in 10 years,” he said. “And if it does, our country will go down, too.”

Speaking to reporters during the ACC Football Kickoff, in Nashville, Fedora said he had spoken to a U.S. military general who told him the nation's armed forces are so strong, in part, because so many football players go on to enlist.

"Are there still injuries? Yeah. It's a violent sport," Fedora said, according to ESPN. "You've got big, fast, strong guys running into each other. Something is going to give. But there are risks involved in the game, and everybody that plays the game understands those risks."

To date, 111 head injury lawsuits have been filed and condensed against the NCAA and its membership. The NCAA has already agreed to pay $75 million to settle a class-action concussion lawsuit, but none of the money has gone to individual athletes, who can still file personal injury claims. Most of it, $70 million, has been used to set up a medical monitoring system for players. The remaining $5 million is slated for concussion research.

The National Football League has offered a $1 billion settlement for former players who display lingering problems related to concussions and has instituted much stricter rules around head trauma.

In 2017, Boston University researchers found that the brains of nearly every professional football player it studied had symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease brought on by continual head trauma. Researchers found CTE in 110 of 111 professional players’ brains it studied, and in 48 of 53 college players’ brains.

In CTE cases, a protein called TAU builds and clumps in the brain, killing cells and causing physical problems such as severe headaches, as well as significant mood swings, memory loss and dementia. It can only be definitively diagnosed after death.

Fedora on Wednesday questioned the evidence tying CTE to football, saying that the game "is safer than it's ever been," according to ESPN. "When I started playing the game, it was all about the head. You were going to stick your head into everything. And as we've learned and we understand the dangers of what's going on in the game of football, you slowly have taken the head out of the game. And so all the drills that you teach, all the tackling, all the things you do, you do it with the head out of the game, to keep the head away from the impacts."

July 19, 2018

Fordham University’s adjunct and full-time, non-tenure-track faculty union voted to ratify their first contract, they announced Wednesday. (An earlier agreement was tentative.) The union, which represents 800 instructors and is affiliated with Service Employees International Union, says the three-year deal provides adjunct faculty members with raises of up to 90 percent, with the majority of adjuncts earning between $7,000 and $8,000 per course by the end of the contract. The new minimum annual salary for full-timers is $64,000, an increase of about $14,000 per year for some of the lowest-paid instructors.

Bob Howe, university spokesperson, said Fordham is “pleased to have reached this significant agreement.” Better pay, greater security and “greater integration into the university community are not only better for our faculty, but for the students they teach and for the university as a whole,” he said.

July 19, 2018

A new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers calls for an emphasis on the "reskilling" of adults in their prime working years, such as through apprenticeships or by opening up federal Pell Grants to shorter-term education programs.

"The concentration of investment in skill development and education among workers with a bachelor’s degree and those under age 25 is a strong indication that America’s reskilling effort is not optimized to address future challenges," the report concluded.

Legislative proposals for short-term Pell Grants have attracted bipartisan support, but also concerns about quality control. Pell currently cannot be used for programs that are less than 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length. Lawmakers have suggested dropping minimum requirements to 150 hours and eight weeks. The council referenced potential problems with opening up Pell to shorter-term programs, saying they should be subject to eligibility criteria aimed at protecting quality.

The report also described an information gap between employers, workers and educational institutions about which skills employers want in job candidates.

"While employers presumably know which skills they value in an employee, workers themselves and educational institutions have less up-to-date knowledge, and their response lags behind the changing demand," according to the council. "Lacking incisive data, workers and educational institutions are separated from employers by an information gap that makes it difficult to prepare the workforce with the skills employers seek."

While President Trump has repeatedly questioned whether community colleges are fulfilling their vocational role, the report included praise for the two-year sector.

"Community colleges in partnership with local industries offer some of the most innovative reskilling programs in the United States," said the council. "These programs have the advantage of addressing a localized skills gap jointly determined by industry and education institutions in the absence of a national survey of skills gaps that would identify these specialized skills as areas of great national need."

Trump on Wednesday said he would make a major announcement this week about a work-force training initiative.

July 19, 2018

Washington Senator Patty Murray and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, both Democrats, asked the IRS and Treasury Department in a letter this week to clarify that student loan relief issued to former Corinthian Colleges students should not be taxed.

The Department of Education has issued loan forgiveness to thousands of borrowers who attended the now defunct for-profit college chain. An additional settlement between the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Aequitas Capital Management cleared the private student loan debt of former Corinthian students.

But data from CFPB showed 47,000 Corinthian borrowers in tax year 2017 received 1099-C forms, which are required to report canceled debt as taxable income.

"Students should not be stuck with a tax bill when predatory for-profit colleges and corporations provide false or misleading information that leaves their borrowers with high levels of debt, poor job prospects, useless degrees and credentials, and in many cases, no degree at all," Murray and Wyden wrote. "And, Treasury and IRS should seek to avoid imposing substantial and unnecessary costs on taxpayers through case-by-case adjudication."

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