Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 10, 2017

St. Olaf College is removing the name of the late Reidar Dittmann from a campus building after receiving "credible evidence" that he engaged in sexual misconduct over the course of his career there, The Star Tribune reported. Dittmann taught art and Norwegian at St. Olaf for more than 45 years and died in 2010. The allegations surfaced in the last year as part of an effort by the college to reach out to victims of sexual assault. When several allegations were made, the college conducted an investigation and confirmed details of some of the allegations, and so decided it needed to remove the Dittmann name from the building.

David Anderson, president of the college, said, “You reach a point where you have a sufficient degree of evidence that’s credible and verifiable and comes from multiple sources …. Then you’re in a tough spot. Are you going to say, well, because the alleged perpetrator is deceased, we’re not going to take any steps, even though we have this very high degree of certainty of what happened? Or, knowing what we know now, we can’t go forward with that name on the building.”

Family members of Dittmann issued a statement that said in part, “The allegations of sexual misconduct from decades ago deeply trouble his family, many members of whom proudly attended the college and grew up with it as an integral part of our lives. We abhor sexual misconduct without exception, but we are also devastated by the impossibility of due process for the person we knew and loved.” The statement also criticized “the process used to indict our father posthumously; the haste with which the college reached its conclusion; and finally, the public humiliation our family is experiencing as a result of the college’s communications of their actions.”

March 10, 2017

Wilkes University, in Pennsylvania, has announced that it is ending face-to-face programs in Mesa, Ariz., although online programs will continue to be offered, The Arizona Republic reported. Wilkes said interest was stronger for its online than in-person offerings. Mesa had recruited five private colleges to start offering programs in the city, but Wilkes follows Albright College and Westminster College of Missouri in ending programs there.

March 10, 2017

Inside Higher Ed is pleased to release today our latest print-on-demand compilation, "The Evolving Quest for Student Success." You may download the booklet, free, here. And you may sign up here for a free webinar on the themes of the booklet on Tuesday, April 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

March 10, 2017

A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled Edinboro University and its foundation are protected from antitrust laws after a group of local landlords claimed a conspiracy to monopolize the student housing market around the public university in northwestern Pennsylvania.

But the decision more narrowly interprets the university’s governmental antitrust immunity than did a lower court’s ruling.

A group of landlords owning almost 400 off-campus rental units filed suit in U.S. District Court in Erie in May 2015. They alleged occupancy rates in their off-campus units fell after the Edinboro University Foundation developed a $117 million on-campus student housing project for the university and the university imposed stiffer on-campus living requirements. Construction on the complex started in 2007, and the university decided to increase on-campus residency requirements in 2011 -- two and a half years after the first phase of the housing project opened. The landlords first named Edinboro’s foundation in the complaint, which alleged violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and later added the university’s president. The university itself was listed as a nondefendant co-conspirator.

Edinboro University doubled its residency requirements for most full-time, first-year noncommuter students and some transfer students from two consecutive semesters to four, the suit said. The university did so in order to capture enough revenue to pay for more than $100 million in bond debt the foundation took on to build the housing complex for the university, it alleged. But the university maintained the change would help students graduate.

Senior U.S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein threw out the case in March of last year. She found that the foundation was an agent of the university, which was protected by broad state government immunity under a 1943 Supreme Court case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed that decision in part on Thursday but decided the lower court had painted with too broad a brush. The lower court had ruled the university and its foundation were immune to the antitrust act automatically because the university was an arm of the state. But Third Circuit Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote that a narrower standard should apply, likening the university to a municipality -- an arm of the state acting in the public interest instead of a sovereign arm of the state.

Smith still found that the actions of the university and the foundation it directs are immune because they conformed to a “clearly articulated state policy.” He cited a Pennsylvania law calling on public universities to provide appropriate student living facilities as that clearly articulated state policy.

The Court of Appeals remanded the case, instructing that it be dismissed without prejudice and leaving open the door for the landlords to file an amended complaint.

March 10, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Robert Brecha, professor in the renewable and clean energy program at the University of Dayton, discusses why low-energy living doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 9, 2017

The Senate blocked teacher-prep rules issued by the Obama administration last year through a joint resolution under the Congressional Review Act. Republicans in the House began the process to block the rules in February.

The rules were finalized after a years-long process and received backing from education reform groups. But they were opposed by Republicans as well as teachers' unions that have traditionally been aligned with the Democrats.

On Thursday, 17 higher ed organizations, including the American Council on Education and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, signed on to a letter supporting the measure.

“Overturning this regulation says that states -- not a distant department in Washington, D.C. -- are responsible for evaluating whether a college’s program gives teachers the skills they need to help their students learn,” said Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, in a statement. “The department’s regulation also would force states to evaluate teachers in a way that Congress specifically prohibited in the bill to fix No Child Left Behind that got 85 votes in the Senate. I look forward to President Trump’s signature.”

March 9, 2017

The U.S. Department of Education this week released the annual update of its financial responsibility test scores for private colleges, which is based on data from 2014-15. The 187 institutions that have a failing score -- most of which are small and either private nonprofit or for-profit -- will lose access to federal financial aid without a provisional certification from the department. The department may also require colleges with low or failing scores to take out a letter of credit or be subject to a sanction called heightened cash monitoring.

The test was designed to keep tabs on the fiscal stability of colleges, with an eye toward preventing financial aid from going to institutions that may shut down abruptly. For example, Dowling College, which shut down last year, has a failing score on the new list.

However, many private college officials have for years criticized the department's methodology for the test. They say the scoring system fails to use generally accepted accounting practices, is backward looking and does not capture the complexity of a college budget. For example, a decline in a college endowment's investment value is counted as an operating loss.

The department's Office of Inspector General recently agreed with some of that criticism, noting in an audit released last week that the test's methodology should be improved.

March 9, 2017

The New York State Senate passed three bills Wednesday that limit activity related to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Two of those bills directly relate to universities and student groups.

Senate Bill 4837 would “prohibit any college from using state aid to fund an academic entity, to provide funds for membership in an academic entity or fund travel or lodging for any employee to attend any meeting of such academic entity if that academic entity has undertaken an official action boycotting certain countries or their higher education institutions.” Specifically the bill would apply to boycotts of countries “if the country subject of such boycott hosts a higher education institution chartered by the Board of Regents” -- a category that includes Israel.

Senate Bill 2493, meanwhile, would “prohibit student organizations that participate in hate speech, including advocating for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel and American allied nations from receiving public funding.”

A third bill passed by the Senate, Senate Bill 2492, would restrict the state from contracting with or investing in “persons and businesses that promote or engage in activities to boycott American allied nations,” again, a category that includes Israel.

All three bills have been delivered to the New York State Assembly.

The legal advocacy organizations Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued a statement saying it would fight to prevent the bills from passing the Assembly and becoming law.

“These bills are blatantly unconstitutional attacks on First Amendment rights to protest and dissent. They resurrect widely condemned tactics used to undermine democracy: creating McCarthyite blacklists, punishing dissent, attacking academic freedom and cracking down on student organizing,” the groups said in a joint statement.

State Senator Elaine Phillips, a Republican who sponsored the latter two bills, issued a press release hailing their passage by the Senate (Phillips is also a cosponsor of the first of the three bills). “New York State has no business funding attacks against Israel or supporting hate; it’s an inappropriate and offensive use of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “Entities facilitating an economic war against Israel and student groups that are harassing, intimidating and abusing Jewish students should not receive one penny of state support.”

March 9, 2017

The medical dean at the University of Ottawa has sent a memo suggesting that faculty not make "politically charged" comments on social media or make "personal or demeaning attacks on celebrities or politicians," The National Post reported. The memo added, “While most of our faculty members are demonstrable champions of professionalism, it has come to light” that some members of the faculty had been “using material or presenting information that may be considered inappropriate in the context of the educational values that we as a university uphold.”

The Canadian Association of University Teachers has asked the dean, Jacques Bradwejn, to rescind the memo. “One of the key components of academic freedom is the right of faculty to exercise free speech without the university’s censorship or reprisal,” said a statement from the group's executive director, David Robinson.

March 9, 2017

With state and institutional aid deadlines fast approaching -- some as soon as this week -- the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that allows students and families to transfer their federal tax data directly into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is unavailable. By importing income data directly from the IRS, the tool aims to save time on the FAFSA and avoid verification checks that often act as obstacles for low-income and first-generation college students completing financial aid applications.

Several college-access groups, including the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators and the National College Access Network, are monitoring the issue, as are other state and local partners.

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