Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 28, 2017

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June 28, 2017

A citizen lawsuit against Northern Illinois University seeks to block its board's approval of a $600,000 severance payment to Doug Baker, who resigned as president amid criticism of spending practices at the university, The Chicago Tribune reported. The suit charges that the board violated open meetings laws by not telling the public it was planning to make a deal with the outgoing president. The university declined to comment.

 

June 28, 2017

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, on Tuesday vetoed legislation asking public institutions to punish students who interfere with “the free expression of others,” nola.com reported. It also required campuses to adopt a statement in support of free speech, noting that they won’t shield students from unwelcome or offensive speech, and will permit demonstrations. The Louisiana Board of Regents also would have had to create a committee on free expression to report annually on challenges to free speech on campus. 

The Republican-sponsored bill passed the Louisiana Legislature with overwhelming support but Edwards said he found it to be "a solution in search of a problem,” and "unnecessary and overly burdensome." In a letter explaining the veto, he said that the “protection of speech has survived and flourished in the 226 years since the adoption of the First Amendment, and it will continue to do so without House Bill 269 becoming the law of Louisiana.”

The bill was similar to others proposed in several states this year. It was reportedly modeled after legislation passed in Arizona last year, which banned designated free speech zones on public campuses. 

June 28, 2017

Faculty members continue to defend Johnny Eric Williams after his suspension from Trinity College in Connecticut over racially charged remarks he made on social media. The American Association of University Professors on Tuesday sent a letter to Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity’s president, urging Williams’s “immediate reinstatement to his normal faculty duties” and that any further personnel action be consistent with widely accepted procedural standards.

The AAUP regards suspension from one’s normal duties as a serious sanction that should only be imposed after a hearing before a faculty body. No such hearing was held in Williams’s case. “[W]e must stress that the AAUP has long held that academic freedom includes ‘the freedom to address the larger community with regard to any matter of social, political, economic or other interest, without institutional discipline or restraint, save in response to fundamental violations of professional ethics or statements that suggest disciplinary incompetence,’” its letter says, citing association policy. “We are concerned that the actions taken by the administration may have violated [Williams’s] academic freedom.”

The message also sheds light on how Trinity communicated the personnel action to Williams, who has since reached out to AAUP for help: Timothy Cresswell, dean of the faculty, allegedly left a voicemail message over the weekend saying Williams was on a leave of absence, effective immediately. Cresswell also previously asked Williams to take a voluntary leave until January, which he declined, according to the AAUP.

The Executive Committee of the Trinity campus chapter of the AAUP released a similar statement in support of Williams, saying “we are still troubled that, after a tenured black professor received death threats in response to speaking out against white supremacy on a personal social media page, the administration’s default response was to lend credence to a politically motivated attack specifically designed to stifle critical engagement with issues of race. The other choice would have been to strongly support [Williams] in the face of such attacks.”

The decision to put Williams on leave “should not be made out of institutional expediency but rather by those directly under threat: that is, by [Williams] and his family,” the committee said. “Moreover, we are not convinced that this decision is in the best interest of the campus community. Insofar as the administration is genuinely concerned about protecting the community, we urge them to join us in our fight to protect scholars who engage with issues of race, and to dismantle the institutional structures that make such difficult and uncomfortable conversations necessary."

Expressing concern for the “precedent” a forced leave sets for free inquiry and academic freedom on campus, the chapter letter notes that Williams “made his comments on a personal social media page, which he has every right to do under the First Amendment. As such, we do not see how this administration manages to reach the conclusion that this is germane to his ability to effectively do his job (which should be the only grounds for forced leaves, suspensions, terminations, and the like). But, like [Williams], many of us engage in productive scholarship that grapples with these important and politically sensitive issues, in the classroom, the broader academic community, and in our personal and social spheres of influence. We do it, in part, because we have been -- up to now -- reasonably sure that our administration would protect us under the auspices of academic freedom if necessary. It is difficult to see how we can maintain that confidence in light of recent events.”

A spokesperson for Trinity declined comment Tuesday, saying that she couldn’t provide additional information about a personnel action.

Trinity announced Monday that Williams was put on paid leave over comments he made on Facebook, which some have argued advocate violence against whites. Williams has since apologized and said the remarks were taken out of context in reports on right-wing news websites. Williams received physical threats over his comments, and Trinity shut down for a day last week to investigate them. Williams told Inside Higher Ed earlier this week that he was “heartbroken” over the college’s action against him.

June 28, 2017

The American Council on Education, along with 18 other higher education groups, wrote to Senate leaders Tuesday urging a "different approach" to the health-care bill released by Republican lawmakers last week.

The bill's cuts to Medicaid funding, repeal of Medicaid expansion and other long-term changes to the program would put negative pressures on state budgets, forcing state lawmakers to choose between spending on health care or higher education, wrote Terry Hartle, senior vice president of ACE. The bill would also mean loss of health-care coverage for many college students and large increases in uncompensated care for teaching hospitals, the letter said.

"As the Congressional Budget Office has indicated, the proposed drastic reductions to federal Medicaid funding and the other changes to individual market coverage will cause a significant increase in the number of uninsured Americans," Hartle wrote. "As a result, teaching hospitals will see large increases in uncompensated care costs and bad debt, putting pressure on their budgets and making it more difficult to invest in research and training."

Republican leaders -- short of the votes necessary to pass the bill -- said Tuesday they would delay a vote on the bill until after the July 4 congressional recess.

June 28, 2017

Connecticut statute requires certain kinds of buildings to have certain numbers of bathrooms for men and for women. Yale University has been seeking an exemption so that it can designate some single-unit bathrooms for use by people of any gender identity. Having been turned down, Yale is suing the state, The New Haven Register reported. Yale argues that its approach would provide more facilities for everyone.

June 28, 2017

Brandeis University on Tuesday announced a $50 million bequest from Chicago philanthropists Rosaline and Marcia Cohn. The money will be used for financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students.

June 28, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Jürgen Kornmeier, senior researcher at the University of Freiburg, looks into whether the “Mona Lisa” is really smiling. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 27, 2017

When black and Latino middle school students are encouraged to write a series of self-affirming essays, they are more likely to pursue a college education, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that Latino students who write the essays become more likely than other Latino students to enter a college preparatory track in high school, rather than a remedial track. Black students who participate are more likely than other black students to enroll in college seven to nine years later. The lead author of the study was J. Parker Goyer, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University.

June 27, 2017

A former University of Oregon men’s basketball player was allowed to play this year while under investigation for sexual assault.

Kavell Bigby-Williams, who recently announced his intention to transfer to and play for Louisiana State University, but who has not yet signed with the institution, is under investigation for an assault near Gillette College, a Wyoming community college.

The case is open but inactive, the Register-Guard reported.

Following news reports, Oregon released a statement saying it was impossible to publicly disclose information about a possible sexual assault because of federal student privacy laws.

Police from the community college’s campus contacted University of Oregon law enforcement in fall 2016 asking for help to interview Bigby-Williams, according to the statement. Through his attorney, Bigby-Williams wouldn't comply, the statement says.

The allegations against him were not shared with the Oregon coaching staff.

“University processes, then as now, involve communication between campus police, the Title IX office and athletics administration to determine whether there is a risk to the campus community that requires immediate action. In September 2016, there was insufficient information to warrant interim action,” the statement reads.

The Daily Emerald, the student newspaper, first reported the story.

Per the Emerald report, Oregon’s president, Michael Schill, was ignorant of the accusations.

“I don’t have any awareness of that,” Schill told a Daily Emerald reporter. “In any event, I can’t comment on an individual student. What if I was asked by another reporter about you being obnoxious? Would you want me to tell them that?”

Schill told the Register-Guard it’s protocol for the president, athletic director and coaches to not be notified.

Experts say that institutions are under no obligation to inquire about or track athletes’ sexual assault offenses through the judicial system.

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