Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 3:00am

A sociology instructor who helped lead a faculty union vote of no confidence against the president of Inver Hills Community College in Minnesota says he may now return to campus after a three-month banishment, the Star-Tribune reported. Dave Berger was put on a paid investigative leave in February after an unidentified complaint was filed against him but was this week notified that the investigation is “reaching conclusion,” according to the Star-Tribune

Berger sued the college and its president, Tim Wynes, along with the Minnesota State Colleges and University System, two weeks ago, alleging (among other counts) that Wynes defamed him by publicly stating that the charges against Berger related to sexual harassment. Berger says his leave had nothing to do with harassment. The college has previously said that Berger’s leave had nothing to do with his union activities. Berger’s union, Inver Hills United, has campaigned for his return, and other supporters have created an online petition and Facebook page to “Bring Berger Back.”

Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 3:00am

An open letter that calls for extending the contract of an expert on extremism and anti-Semitism at Germany’s University of Göttingen has received international attention.

The open letter published by the Fachschaftsrat Sozialwissenschaften, the social studies student council, describes Samuel Salzborn as “the backbone of the bachelor degree program” in social sciences and describes the administration's decision not to renew his contract as “the latest in a string of bad decisions at the expense of the faculty of social sciences.” A social sciences faculty body had voted unanimously in favor of a contract extension.

“We fail to identify a proper reason for the nonrenewal because Salzborn himself is very successful at publishing nationally and internationally on his specific subjects of anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism, he’s very popular among his students, and, as you would have seen from the great support that he has enjoyed since we published this open letter, he’s very respected among his peers,” said Clemens Boehncke, a graduate student in political science and a spokesman for the social sciences student council. Absent a clear reason, Boehncke said, student representatives have been left to speculate on possible political motivations for the nonrenewal and to see it as an attack on the social sciences.

Salzborn declined to comment. In a statement the university said he holds a temporary chair that is not eligible for tenure or extension.

“The chair Fundamentals in Social Sciences, which Mr. Salzborn currently holds, is a temporary chair (without an option for tenure or extension),” the university said. “These temporary positions are by default open only for a certain period of time, after which they are either terminated or advertised anew. In the case of this chair, which plays an essential role in the teaching at the faculty of social sciences, the university is going to advertise a new position with the same thematic orientation.”

Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 3:00am

A new report from the Center for American Progress looks at how federal health care and housing benefits address affordability and how those programs could help inform a rethinking of federal financial aid in higher education.

"The result of an expectation-light approach to college affordability is that the ability of federal postsecondary benefits to achieve their desired aims is completely dependent upon the choices made by schools, governors and legislatures across the country," the report said. It adds that "changing federal financial aid benefits to guarantee recipients can purchase a specific set of goods, not just receive a set amount of money, will better conform these programs to the rest of the U.S. social safety net."

Key points from the comparison, the center said, are:

  • Areas such as health care set distinct affordability policies for the most vulnerable individuals that result in minimal to no expectations for out-of-pocket spending.
  • The federal government limits which products within a market it will make affordable, refusing to subsidize the priciest options.
  • Related to this sense of limits, the federal government also creates affordability standards -- specifically, when it deals with debt in areas related to housing -- to protect consumers from unaffordable payments.
  • The federal government does not always pursue affordability on its own. For crucial items such as health insurance, it enlists the help of states and employers to achieve its aims.
Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Rebecca Lakin Gullan, associate professor of psychology at Gwynedd Mercy University, discusses the ways a strong mentor can make a difference to students. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 4:27am

A protest at DePaul University on Tuesday disrupted and ended a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer for the conservative website Breitbart.com whose campus speeches have led to protests at many colleges. Yiannopoulos, who criticizes feminism and diversity efforts on campuses, was speaking when others got on the stage and started speaking over him. A video posted to YouTube by Breitbart.com shows the events (and has been confirmed by local press accounts). The disruption starts around 46:30 in the video, after a comment by Yiannopoulos on microaggressions.

Tuesday started off with different tensions at DePaul. Someone painted "Trump 2016" and a slur against Mexicans on the sidewalk of a main quad. Unlike chalkings that wash away, these statements were made in paint, and the university filed a criminal complaint.

The Reverend Dennis H. Holtschneider, president of DePaul, issued this statement: “The markings in the quad last night run contrary to the type of environment we foster at DePaul. Destruction of property and profanity are never acceptable ways to voice opinions. This slur against Mexicans goes against everything DePaul stands for. We will work to identify the individual, file charges with the police and bring the university's disciplinary process to bear. If anyone has knowledge of this matter, I ask them to come forward."

Later in the day, the university Twitter account said a student admitted being responsible for the incident.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 3:00am

During a commencement ceremony at Palo Alto College, Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie was photographed sitting on stage, scrolling through his phone.

The photos attracted criticism on social media, and Tony Villanueva, president of Palo Alto's American Association of University Professors chapter, said that Leslie had his phone out for at least 30 minutes. "Somebody next to me timed it," he told the San Antonio Express-News.

Leo Zuniga, an Alamo Colleges spokesman, said the chancellor did not give a reason for using his phone during the ceremony. “He was on the cellphone, and he apologizes that people were offended by it,” Zuniga said.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 4:12am

Some audience members shouted insults or boos at Maria Elena Salinas, the commencement speaker at California State University at Fullerton, during a talk to the communications college graduates Sunday, The Washington Post reported. Salinas is an anchor on Univision, a Spanish-language network, and she was shouted at when spoke briefly in Spanish and commented critically on Donald Trump. “It’s really sad,” she told the Post. “And it’s a testament to what has happened in our country. Our country is really divided.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 3:00am

Idaho State University has been sued by a tennis player who charges that he was the victim of religious discrimination and sexual harassment, The Post Register reported. The athlete who sued is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His lawsuit says that team members made fun of his Mormon faith, repeatedly badgering him with questions about sexual practices that would conflict with his faith. The harassment increased, the suit says, when he told his coaches and fellow team members that he would be leaving the next year for a mission trip in which Mormons typically participate. Then an assistant coach and players sent two prostitutes or strippers to the student's room to try to make him violate the teachings of his faith. He sent the women away.

The suit charges that an assistant coach directly participated in the harassment and that the coach permitted a culture in which the Mormon student was harassed. Both the coach and assistant coach are no longer in their positions. The university said it does not comment on litigation. But the newspaper reported that an internal investigation by the university backed up many of the complaints, including the allegation involving prostitutes or strippers.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of California at Los Angeles and Under Armour on Tuesday announced the largest college sponsorship deal in the history of intercollegiate sports. The deal will pay the university's athletic department $280 million in cash and apparel over 15 years, or about $18 million per year. UCLA's previous deal, with Adidas, was worth $7.5 million per year.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 3:00am

The Century Foundation on Wednesday published a report that is critical of state policies that link funding of public colleges with measures of their performance, such as graduation rates and degree production numbers. Roughly 35 states are either developing or using some form of performance-based funding for higher education.

The new report's author, Nicholas Hillman, an assistant professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who has studied such state-based formulas, argues that performance-based funding is rarely effective.

"While pay for performance is a compelling concept in theory, it has consistently failed to bear fruit in actual implementation, whether in the higher education context or in other public services," Hillman wrote. "Performance-based funding regimes are most likely to work in noncomplex situations where performance is easily measured, tasks are simple and routine, goals are unambiguous, employees have direct control over the production process, and there are not multiple people involved in producing the outcome."


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