Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 21, 2017

Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members teaching within Washington University in St. Louis’s College of Arts and Sciences voted against forming a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, according to election results certified this week by the National Labor Relations Board. The final tally was 50 against and 35 in favor of unionization, not including an additional 29 challenged ballots.

The university said in a statement, “Our priority at the university has been -- and will be -- keeping lines of communication open and working directly with our faculty to address issues of mutual concern. The election results will allow us to continue those efforts.” SEIU did not immediately provide comment. Part-time faculty members on campus are affiliated with the union and ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with the administration last year.

June 21, 2017

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee criticized the decision making of campus administrators in a hearing Tuesday but didn't suggest any new federal responses to issues of free speech on college campuses.

Although Congress has examined free speech in the context of higher ed before, the hearing was the first on Capitol Hill since several high-profile incidents this year involving conservative and far-right speakers. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said many students erroneously think that speech they consider hateful is violent.

Witnesses agreed that speech rights must be protected by college administrators. Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said canceling events featuring inflammatory speakers risked turning them into First Amendment martyrs.

Lawmakers also heard from Williams College senior Zach Wood, whose student group hosts controversial speakers on campus. The group withdrew an invitation to antifeminist author Suzanne Venker in 2015 after heated protests and later had a speech by conservative writer John Derbyshire canceled by the university itself. Williams President Adam Falk said at the time that many of Derbyshire's opinions amounted to hate speech.

President Trump mused on Twitter earlier this year whether the University of California, Berkeley, should see its federal funding cut off after it canceled a speech by "alt-right" personality Milo Yiannopoulos over safety concerns. Republicans didn't suggest any similar repercussions Tuesday, but Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said college presidents not willing to uphold First Amendment rights on campus should resign.

"This is an issue that should be addressed by the university president," Kennedy said. "Shame on any one of them who for political reasons decides not to do their job."

June 21, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute: Colin Camerer, professor of behavioral economics at the California University of Technology, examines this question. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 21, 2017

A state appeals court in Arizona overturned a lower court ruling extending in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students who gained protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, The Arizona Republic reported. Arizona law prohibits charging in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants, but a 2015 ruling by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge held that individuals with DACA status are lawfully present in the U.S. and are therefore eligible for the lower in-state rate -- a decision the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned Tuesday. About 250 DACA students are enrolled in Arizona’s public universities, and another 2,056 are enrolled in Maricopa Community Colleges, which serve the Phoenix area.

The ruling stems from a suit filed by Arizona's attorney general against Maricopa Community Colleges in 2013. Matt Hasson, communications director for Maricopa, said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed that the college is “reviewing the appeals court ruling with outside counsel, and our governing board will meet next week in executive session to discuss this matter.” The president of the Arizona Board of Regents, Eileen Klein, also said the board is reviewing the decision and "will be monitoring the case for further developments including any decision by the Maricopa County Community College District to seek further review.”

"The superior court decision that was reversed today was the basis for ABOR’s decision in 2015 to extend in-state tuition to eligible Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students," Klein said in a statement. "If today’s decision stands, DACA students will no longer qualify for in-state tuition at Arizona’s public universities" -- though, she said, they may be eligible for a special nonresident tuition rate for Arizona high school graduates, set at 150 percent of undergraduate resident tuition.

“Nevertheless, we recognize that today’s decision is difficult news for the DACA students currently at our public universities,” Klein said. “While the board and our universities seek in all ways to honor and obey both state and federal law, we are concerned about the success and needs of the DACA students who have selected to earn their degree at our universities.”

Arizona's attorney general, Mark Brnovich, is quoted by The Arizona Republic saying that more than 70 percent of voters approved a 2006 ballot proposition prohibiting in-state tuition benefits for undocumented immigrants. "I am sympathetic to all young adults looking to improve their lives, but as attorney general my job is to defend the law and not second-guess the will of Arizona voters," Brnovich said.

June 20, 2017

A University of Virginia student who was released from North Korea in a coma last week after being detained for 17 months died Monday at age 22, The New York Times reported. Otto Warmbier, who was detained at the end of a five-day tour to North Korea in January 2016 and convicted two months later by the country’s authoritarian government for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster, is believed to have been in a coma for more than a year. Doctors said Warmbier suffered “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain,” likely due to cardiopulmonary arrest.

June 20, 2017

Ruth Simmons (right) was on Monday named interim president of Prairie View A&M University, effective July 1. She succeeds George Wright, who is stepping down after 14 years in the presidency. While Simmons is new to Prairie View A&M, she is not new to being a college president, having served in the position at Brown University from 2001 to 2012 and as president of Smith College before that. She also served as provost of Spelman College earlier in her career.

June 20, 2017

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation announced Monday that its annual prize for elite colleges that promote equity is going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this year. The $1 million prize is designed to show that colleges with highly competitive admissions can also craft admissions and financial aid programs to enroll many low-income students. UNC said it would match the $1 million to create a new $2 million fund to support efforts for low-income students. The first two winners were Vassar and Amherst Colleges, respectively, making UNC the first public institution to win the honor.

June 20, 2017

Greg Patterson, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, has been in the news this week over his recording of a meeting at which he mocked a state legislator. Now Patterson has resigned. In his resignation letter, he wrote that he does not "wish to be a distraction" from the work of the board and of the universities it governs.

June 20, 2017

Jewish students filed a suit in federal court Monday against San Francisco State University, charging that the institution tolerates a hostile environment toward them, the Los Angeles Times reported. The suit said students are afraid to wear Stars of David for fear of the reaction. And the suit says San Francisco State permits disruption of events sponsored by Jewish or pro-Israel groups in ways that would not be tolerated of other events. For instance, it says that the university did not intervene when pro-Palestinian speakers shouted down the mayor of Jerusalem last year.

A statement from the university said, “We have been working closely with the Jewish community, among other interest groups, to address concerns and improve the campus environment for all students. Those efforts have been very productive and will continue notwithstanding this lawsuit.”

June 20, 2017

Major League Baseball is today announcing a deal in which Northeastern University courses and programs will be available to players, using continuing education funds that were part of the most recent agreement between the league and its players' unions. Many baseball players do not have college degrees and could benefit from the offerings. Northeastern will provide academic advisers and access to both in-person and online courses.

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