Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 3:00am

Black students enroll disproportionately in majors that are not the most lucrative, according to a report being released today by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. While African-Americans comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up only 7 percent of STEM majors. And while they make up 10 percent of health-related majors, their largest numbers are in the lowest-earning major: health and medical administrative services. A 2011 book -- Opting Out -- found similar trends among black students at elite colleges.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 3:00am

A black professor at Princeton University said in several recent posts to social media that she was arrested and mistreated by police over an unpaid parking ticket.

On Twitter Sunday, Imani Perry, an African-American history professor at Princeton, described being pulled over by police in Princeton Township and arrested “for a single parking ticket three years ago.” Police handcuffed her to a table, she said, refused to let her make a call before being arrested and, despite a female officer being present, a male police officer performed a body search.

A spokesman for the police department said Perry was pulled over for speeding, after which it was discovered that her driver’s license had been suspended and there was an active warrant for her arrest due to unpaid parking tickets. "She was put under arrest pursuant to the warrant, our policy and state law," the spokesman said. The police department has opened an investigation into the incident, all of which was recorded. (A local news site collected more details here.)

In a subsequent post to Facebook, Perry elaborated on her feelings about the incident. "I did not purport to be without fault," she wrote. "Now, make no mistake, I do not believe I did anything wrong. But even if I did, my position holds. The police treated me inappropriately and disproportionately. The fact of my blackness is not incidental to this matter."

"Some critics have said that I should have expected what I received. But if it is the standard protocol in an affluent suburb to disallow a member of the community to make a call before an arrest (simply to inform someone of her arrest) and if it is the protocol to have male officers to pat down the bodies of women, and if it is the norm to handcuff someone to a table for failing to pay a parking ticket, we have a serious problem with policing in the society."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 3:00am

Elizabeth Garrett, the new president of Cornell University, notified the campus Monday that she is being treated for colon cancer. She said she would cut back on some duties while being treated at Cornell's medical center, and was confident that other senior members of her team would keep things moving and keep her informed. "I am optimistic that with the support of my family, friends and the Cornell community, I will be able to resume a fuller schedule soon and manage this illness," she wrote.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of Delaware Faculty Senate has approved a four-year experiment in which applicants will no longer be required to submit SAT or ACT scores. Nancy Targett, acting president of the university, said in a statement that “the university’s future is predicated on our commitment to equity and inclusion. We value diverse backgrounds and learning experiences, and this program aligns with that commitment.” While an increasing number of colleges are going test optional, relatively few flagship universities have made such a shift.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, John Turri, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo, explains how what we ought to do might not always be what we can do. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, February 8, 2016 - 3:17am

Apollo Education Group, Inc., which owns the University of Phoenix and is a major player in for-profit higher education, this morning announced a deal to be sold to a consortium of investors, including the Vistria Group, funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management and Najafi Companies, for $9.50 per share. The deal is a $1.1 billion transaction. When the deal closes, Tony Miller, chief operating officer and partner of the Vistria Group and former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, will become chairman of the Apollo Education Group board.

“The Apollo Education Group Board of Directors reviewed strategic alternatives and believes this transaction is in the best interest of all shareholders and strongly supports our transformation efforts,” said a statement from Greg Cappelli, chief executive officer of Apollo Education Group. “This new structure will allow Apollo Education Group the flexibility and runway it needs to complete the transformational plan at University of Phoenix, which will enable us to serve our students more effectively during a period of unprecedented volatility within our industry. We will also continue to expand our international operations and remain committed to driving principles of operating excellence.”

Apollo has faced increased scrutiny from federal and state regulators, and the company has been shrinking. Corporate filings released last month, when Apollo announced it might be sold, revealed Apollo’s first-quarter revenue is down to $586 million compared to $714.5 million a year ago. Enrollment also continues to decline. Total enrollment is at about 201,000 students, compared to about 267,000 last year.

The press release says the Vistria Group is based in Chicago and is a "private investment firm focused on investing in middle-market companies in the health care, education and financial services sectors." The firm's website is private.

At a time when many in for-profit higher education make no secret of their dislike of the current administration, which has pushed for much tougher regulation of the sector, Vistria is well connected to the Obama administration. It is led by Martin Nesbitt, whom Fortune in 2014 called a "close pal" of the president's. Nesbitt also leads the foundation planning the Obama presidential library. Miller, the Vistria official who will lead the new Apollo board, held his Education Department position during the first Obama administration.

In late 2014, Vistria recapitalized Penn Foster, a for-profit network of career-related programs that was founded in 1890.

Monday, February 8, 2016 - 4:28am

Concordia College, in Moorhead, Minn., last week announced cuts that would eliminate a number of programs, many of them in languages. The cuts eliminate programs in Latin, Latin education, French, French education and German -- along with classical studies, classics, health, humanities and Scandinavian studies. College officials cited low enrollments and the need for budget savings.

But now the college is facing a strong backlash from students and alumni, The Star Tribune reported. Many note that Concordia may be best known for Concordia Language Villages, summer immersion programs. Concordia says that program will not change, but many question how a college can promote its summer programs in languages while eliminating them from the academic program. Latin teachers are lobbying against those cuts. And many are backing a petition with the name We Want Our Majors Back.

Monday, February 8, 2016 - 4:19am

Officials at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth have launched new campaigns to discourage heroin use after two students overdosed in recent weeks, one of them fatally, The Boston Globe reported. Increased heroin use on campus in recent years has resulted in a number of deaths and attracted more attention from campus health officials.

Monday, February 8, 2016 - 3:00am

Virginia Tech is again facing scrutiny on the way it provides mental health services to students. In 2007, many raised questions about missed clues that Seung-Hui Cho, a student who murdered 32 people and then killed himself, was a danger to himself and others. Now Natalie Keepers, a freshman who is charged with helping another freshman dispose of the body of a 13-year-old girl he murdered, is suggesting she didn't receive appropriate care, The Washington Post reported. Her lawyers said in court that she faced mental health issues in high school and that she sought treatment at Virginia Tech when she enrolled in the fall. She says Virginia Tech counselors told her she no longer needed treatment in December, two months before the killing.

A Virginia Tech spokeswoman said she couldn't comment on the specifics of Keepers's claim, but that it is common practice “to have an ongoing dialogue between a doctor and a patient to determine a course of action.”

Monday, February 8, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of Wisconsin System moved a step closer Friday to approving new policies related to tenure -- policies that continue to worry faculty members. With little discussion, the Education Committee of the system’s Board of Regents unanimously voted to recommend draft policies on tenure and processes for layoffs or termination, paving the way for the full board to vote on the policies next month. The new policies were drafted by a system task force after Wisconsin’s Legislature voted last year to strike strong protections for tenured faculty from state statute, but faculty members say the new system-based policies still fall short of meeting American Association of University Professors-recommended standards. John Behling, the board’s vice president and chair of the system’s Tenure Policy Task Force, said the policies were drafted to reaffirm the board’s commitment to strong tenure and academic freedom while also increasing “accountability” to taxpayers. “Without that demonstration of accountability, whether real or perceived, our budget prospects in future years will not improve,” Behling added.

Tenure has been a touchy subject in recent months in Wisconsin due to the changes. That’s part of the reason faculty members objected strongly to a survey of their views on tenure this fall by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which has in the past endorsed conservative positions on state policy issues. Despite the controversy, the institute is back at it with a new survey concerning tenure -- this time of non-tenure-track faculty members in the university system. The survey includes such questions as, “In order to receive tenure, you have to take a lower salary. How much of a reduction in your annual salary (keeping your workload constant) would you be willing to take to receive tenure?” and "Would increasing the proportion of classes taught by nontenured instructors harm or improve the overall quality of instruction in your department?" Some faculty members have complained that some questions seem to encourage answers that suggest more faculty members should be off the tenure track.

But Mike Nichols, president of the institute, said this new survey was an effort to gather information on tenure from an entirely new group of respondents -- instructional staff. He shared a letter he sent to Behling last year, attempting to dispel some of what he called the “misinformation” surrounding the institute’s efforts. The letter says neither the institute nor the scholar conducting the survey had any preconceived notions regarding findings, and that the survey will “allow all Wisconsinites an opportunity to sift and winnow all objective information pertinent to a live policy debate.”

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