Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 4:26am

The tendency of higher education and K-12 leaders to point fingers at one another was on display in Texas Wednesday. The Texas Tribune reported that Raymund Paredes, Texas higher education commissioner, spoke before the State Board of Education and said that it isn’t doing enough to assure that students in the K-12 system are college ready upon graduation. The response of members of the state board was to say that Texas colleges aren’t producing enough quality teachers.

Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 3:00am

A lawsuit filed in a New York state court on Wednesday alleges discrimination by the American Studies Association in relation to its boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff, a not-for-profit organization that was, according to the legal complaint, “recently organized to educate and promote sharing and criticism of scholarly, religious and academic books … and to advocate for acceptance of Israeli institutions worldwide,” is barred from joining the ASA as an institutional member on the basis of its Israeli national origin. The organization in question, Athenaeum Blue & White, is described in the complaint as an “Israeli not-for-profit organization with a principle [sic] place of business in New York, N.Y.”

David Abrams, the lawyer for the plaintiff and executive director of the one-person Zionist Advocacy Center, said Athenaeum has not attempted to apply for ASA membership and is inferring it would be barred based on the association’s public announcements. The complaint asserts that the ASA has "announced, in substance and effect, that Israeli organizations such as the plaintiff are not welcome."

"It’s like if there’s a bar with a big sign on it that says 'no gays allowed' -- a gay person is allowed to sue for discrimination without formally trying to get in and having himself rejected,” Abrams said. “Or at least that’s how I see the law.”

Abrams described the suit as a “test case.” He said Athenaeum -- which the complaint argues counts as a person under New York City and State Human Rights law -- was incorporated last week. “This organization, while it does have scholarly pursuits, part of its corporate purpose is to advocate for acceptance of Israeli institutions worldwide, and that is what it is doing,” Abrams said.

​Robert Warrior, the president of the ASA and director of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions wouldn’t prevent Athenaeum Blue & White, as a self-identified Israeli organization, from joining ASA as an institutional member. “If this institution had tried to join before suing us, they would have been accepted and received all the benefits of membership.  I just don’t have any doubts about that,” said Warrior. (Note: This article has been updated to include ASA's response.)

Radhika Sainath​, a staff attorney with Palestine Legal, described the case as "a meritless lawsuit based on a hypothetical injury that will be thrown out of court in a heartbeat."

"It's brought by an organization which did not exist prior to ASA’s [boycott] resolution, and appears to have been formed for the sole purpose of suing the ASA," she said. "Rather than engage the issue of Israel's human rights abuses on the merits, Israel advocacy groups are attempting to punish speech by enmeshing supporters of Palestinian freedom in expensive litigation. This is quintessential legal bullying."

A separate lawsuit filed by current and former ASA members alleging that the group's boycott falls outside the scope of its charter and that a membership vote on the matter was not conducted in accordance with the association's own procedures is pending in federal court.

Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 3:00am

A new study of the online student market, released on Wednesday, corroborates many of the trends seen among students who enroll in fully online undergraduate or graduate programs. The findings of the study, a joint project of Aslanian Market Research and the educational technology company Learning House, include:

  • The average online student is getting younger. While colleges often market fully online programs to working adults, the average ages of a typical undergraduate and graduate student are 29 and 33 years, respectively.
  • Students make decisions about where to study online quickly, and they expect colleges to be equally quick with their responses. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of students make a decision about where to apply within four weeks of starting their search, and more than one-third expect to hear back about financial aid before they even apply.
  • While online education enables students to study anywhere, most students choose someplace close to home. Three-quarters of respondents said they picked a campus within 100 miles of where they live.
  • Cost is the No. 1 factor for students when it comes to where to study, and nearly 90 percent of respondents said a scholarship of as much as $500 could influence their decision.

The full study, of 1,500 graduates, students or future students of fully online programs, is available here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 3:00am

A second-semester student at Gordon State College in Georgia has received more than $180,000 in donations after campus police officers discovered him living in a tent near a college parking lot. Two officers responded to a call about the tent on July 9, the Barnesville Herald-Gazette reported, and asked the man inside to come out with his hands up. The occupant, 19-year-old Fredrick Barley, emerged and presented police with his Gordon State student ID. He explained that he’d ridden six hours from his hometown on his brother’s 20-inch bicycle ahead of classes resuming to register for courses and find a job. He carried with him only a duffel bag, a tent, a box of cereal and two gallons of water, according to the Herald-Gazette.

Barley reportedly had been living on campus for three days when he was found, riding around on the undersize bike to complete job applications. The police officers took Barley to a motel and each paid for one night’s stay. He was scheduled to move into his dorm on Monday. “Fred told us this would be his second semester at Gordon as a biology major and we could tell he was serious about his education,” Maria Gebelein, one of the officers, told the Herald-Gazette. “We helped him because we felt it was the right thing to do.”

Police shared Barley’s story on Facebook, and local residents soon delivered gift cards, food, clothes and new mountain bike. An online donations page exceeded its original goal of $150,000, and Barley found a job at a local restaurant washing dishes. “I was not expecting any of this support and am in awe of how this community has come together to help me,” said Barley, who hopes to major in biology and attend medical school. “I was just trying to go to school, find a job and make it on my own.”

Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 3:00am

Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College, is stepping down earlier than expected to join the nonprofit consulting and research firm Ithaka S+R, the college said on Wednesday. Hill will become Ithaka S+R's managing director. Hill announced her resignation from Vassar in March, originally saying she would step down in June 2017. Her new final day is president is now Aug. 15, and she will join Ithaka S+R on Sept. 6. At Ithaka S+R, she will replace current managing director Deanna Marcum, who said in Wednesday's announcement that she is "not going away" but that she wished to cut down on her weekly commute from Washington, D.C., to New York.

Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Valerie Trouet, associate professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona, explains how studying the past can help us protect ourselves in the 21st century. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 3:00am

Yale University on Tuesday announced that it would offer Corey Menafee, the former employee who left after breaking a window depicting slaves, the chance to return to the university.

A statement from Yale said that the university "has informed Mr. Menafee’s attorney that we are willing to grant his request for a second chance at Yale. Mr. Menafee, who resigned in June after he admitted intentionally breaking a stained-glass window, has expressed deep remorse about his actions and informed us that he would like to rescind his resignation. He will be allowed to return to a position in a different setting, starting on Monday, after serving a five-week unpaid suspension (including the time since his resignation on June 21). Yale has already asked the state’s attorney to drop all charges. We are willing to take these unusual steps given the unique circumstances of this matter, and it is now up to Mr. Menafee whether he wishes to return to Yale."

Bob Proto, president of Local 35 Unite Here, Menafee's union, issued this statement: "Mr. Menafee, together with representatives from our union, talked with Yale yesterday. We stood firm in asking that the university rehire him. We are now waiting on a draft agreement from Yale and will continue to stand with Mr. Menafee until he is back at work."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 3:00am

The president and board chair at Mt. Hood Community College issued statements Monday against board member George "Sonny" Yellott, after he posted an offensive picture of President Obama on his Facebook page this month, according to The Oregonian.

Yellott has also ranted about undocumented immigrants and Brexit to his colleagues during a board meeting. The picture he posted on his Facebook depicts President Obama with a noose around his neck and the text "the making of a national holiday."

"At our last Board of Directors meeting certain statements were made that presented ideas that were not aligned with our mission, vision or values," said Debra Derr, president of the college, and Board Chair Susie Jones, in a statement. "To continue to be accessible, positive and responsive to the communities we serve, we must and will live by the values we share."

The Oregon House Republicans have also asked Yellott to pull out of the race for a seat in the State House. He's running as a Republican.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 3:00am

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department announced in a blog post on its site that in a pilot program to collect defaulted federal student loans, it had lower collection levels than private collection companies.

As New America policy analysts Ben Barrett and Alexander Holt write, the pilot program was launched to find out if the agency could collect loan debts without aggressive tactics often used by private contractors -- a source of complaints from borrowers. But the department only managed to resolve 4.4 percent of loans made to 5,729 borrowers, compared to 5.5 percent resolved by a control group of private companies contracted through the department.

Treasury staff members limited contacts with borrowers to one call per week and did not threaten wage garnishment during the first 11 months of the pilot program. The results of the pilot, Barrett and Holt write, indicate that “if we are interested in rehabilitating borrowers, the answer is not to be more gentle.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 3:00am

The website of the Library of Congress has been the target of a denial-of-service attack since this weekend, Federal Computer Week reported. DoS attacks, as they are commonly known, often involve disrupting regular website operations, rendering them slow or unavailable to users. Days after the attack began, the website is still displaying a notice warning users that it is still "experiencing technical difficulties." The federal agency is investigating the source of the attacks.

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