Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 12, 2017

Mills College faculty members are speaking out against cuts after learning last week that plans call for laying off tenured professors and eliminating departments at the women’s liberal arts college -- departments including philosophy.

The Board of Trustees of the college in Oakland, Calif., is expected to vote this month on cuts in order to close a $9.1 million deficit. Mills is operating under a state of financial emergency as leaders attempt to end a series of deficits within three years through cuts, curricular changes and new partnerships.

Faculty members were already uneasy about the coming changes. Then they learned this week that at least eight tenured professors are in line to be laid off and that cuts are set to take place in the English, music, history, ethnic studies, physics, government and philosophy departments. Some questioned cutting the philosophy department in particular, as philosophy is traditionally considered a core part of the liberal arts.

“How does one have a liberal arts program without a philosophy program?” said Marc Joseph, a tenured professor of philosophy, according to The Mercury News. Joseph learned on Tuesday his position is to be cut.

The college’s provost told The Mercury News that Mills must take into account the majors students are choosing. Philosophy is not a popular choice, but Mills has a new global humanities and critical thought major that was created last year and is popular. That major combines philosophy, history, religion and art.

Faculty members have proposed an alternate plan that includes pay cuts to address the college’s budget issues. Some have also questioned the process administrators are following.

“The decision-making process was riddled with irregularities that I believe can be challenged successfully in court,” wrote David Keeports, a professor of chemistry and physics, in a letter circulated to other faculty members, administrators and the college’s Board of Trustees. Keeports is the only tenured physics professor at Mills. He has held his position for 35 years.

Keeports went on to write that the pending layoffs do not match processes spelled out in several parts of the college’s faculty handbook and that “a reasonable jury will conclude that age and gender influenced the decision-making process.”

June 12, 2017

The chief financial officer of the University of Louisville Foundation has been placed on paid leave, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

The move to place Jason Tomlinson on leave came just after the University of Louisville’s fund-raising arm was slammed in an audit that detailed excessive spending practices, unbudgeted expenses and unrecorded losses to the endowment. J. David Grissom, the chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement that the audit “paints a disturbing picture.”

The terms, length and reasoning behind Tomlinson’s placement on leave have not been specified by the university.

June 12, 2017

The U.S. Justice Department on Friday filed a brief defending President Trump against a suit charging that he is in violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, which bars government leaders from taking gifts from foreign leaders. The suit charges that President Trump's hotels and restaurants provide a conduit for such gifts when foreign entities use them.

The Guardian noted that, among the Justice Department's many arguments that Trump is doing nothing wrong was one involving the libraries of universities outside the United States. And indeed on page 64 of the brief, the department suggests that many presidents have had international income. As an illustration of this, the brief notes that some of President Obama's international income "likely" included royalties on his books, which the department said catalogs verified were present in public university libraries outside the U.S. Those cited are in Australia (the University of Melbourne), Canada (the University of Ottawa) and China (Beijing Normal University and Peking University).

The photo above left is of a room in the Trump hotel in Washington. Above right is a Chinese edition of Obama's Dreams From My Father.

June 12, 2017

A federal district court judge last week ordered the Department of Education to rule within 90 days on an application for loan relief by a former Corinthian Colleges student. The application has been pending for more than two years.

The plaintiff in the case, Sarah Dieffenbacher, took out $50,000 in federal student loans while attending Everest College (part of Corinthian) from 2007 to 2012. She submitted an application for loan cancelation alleging fraudulent conduct by the for-profit college in March 2015, a month before Corinthian announced it was closing down campuses operated by Everest and its other remaining brands. 

While waiting for a ruling on the application, Dieffenbacher had her loans go into default and her wages garnished. She filed the lawsuit with representation from the Project on Predatory Student Lending after the department overruled her objections to the wage garnishment. 

She said in a statement she was fighting for herself and other students defrauded by for-profit colleges. 

Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, said the ruling confirms "student loan borrowers have rights that exist independently of political winds and caprices. 

"It is inexcusable to delay and thereby deny Sarah and other borrowers in similar positions their contractual and statutory rights," Merrill said. 

The slow resolution of discharge applications by student borrowers who pursued borrower defense to repayment claims came under intense scrutiny from student debt activists and Democratic lawmakers under the Obama administration. And under the Trump administration, resolution of those claims appears to have ground to a halt at the Department of Education. 

Some advocates pushed for the department under Obama to grant automatic group discharge to student borrowers who attended failed for-profit institutions. The department said it did not have the power to do so, insisting that borrowers make individual claims of fraud. 

Since January, however, even student borrowers already promised relief by the department in response to discharge applications have not seen their loans forgiven. This week, a group of state attorneys general wrote Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a letter seeking an explanation for the delay in granting those discharges as well as the delay in resolving applications still pending. 

 

June 12, 2017

The new French president, Emmanuel Macron, launched a website to recruit American and other international climate scientists called Make Our Planet Great Again in a clear jab at President Trump, France 24 reported. The website, launched in response to Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, says that senior researchers who move to France can apply for grants of up to 1.5 million euros (about $1.7 million), while junior researchers can apply for grants of up to €1 million (about $1.1 million). The website invites researchers and Ph.D. candidates to upload a one-page project summary with a CV.

June 12, 2017

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges restored Compton Community College's accreditation last week.

"The accreditation commission recognized the remarkable progress on the part of faculty, staff, administrators, students and community leaders," said Cecilia Estolano, president of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, in a news release. "It has been our goal at the Board of Governors to see Compton College once again operate as an independent, accredited institution."

Ten years ago a special trustee was appointed by the state to oversee the Compton college district after administrative failure and fraud led ACCJC to revoke the college's accreditation. In February, the college regained the ability to have a locally elected board oversee operations.

June 12, 2017

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law the Nevada Promise Scholarship last week, which would effectively provide tuition-free community college to eligible students.

The $3.5 million scholarship program would be available to graduating high school seniors after they have applied and taken advantage of other federal and state financial aid. Once students enroll in college, to continue eligibility for the scholarship, they must maintain a 2.5 grade point average. Individual community colleges may opt out of the program. The first scholarships will be awarded next year.

So far, nine states have now established College Promise legislation.

June 12, 2017

Student workers at the University of Chicago’s library have voted to unionize, according to The Chicago Tribune. The Student Library Employee Union will have roughly 200 members and is to be affiliated with a local Teamsters branch. Students told the Tribune they were seeking higher wages and more stable schedules.

Of the 80 ballots cast, 67 were in favor of unionization and 13 were against. Thirteen ballots were challenged.

In a statement to the Tribune, University of Chicago spokesman Jeremy Manier said the university was reviewing the election’s outcome, “including the fact that only 30 percent of eligible students voted in favor of union representation.”

The move to unionize at the University of Chicago stands out as the student-unionization movement gains more traction at private universities. Last month a group of University of Chicago graduate students -- Graduate Students United -- filed a petition with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. There is an overlap of about two dozen of those graduate students and those who would be covered by the Student Library Employee Union.

June 12, 2017

A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week would create a demonstration project for competency-based education programs. The project would grant statutory and regulatory flexibility to participants, such as in the application of federal financial aid rules, while also creating new requirements aimed at accountability and transparency.

Co-sponsors of the proposed legislation are Luke Messer, a Republican from Indiana, and Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat. Both serve on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The House passed a similar bill in 2014, but the U.S. Senate did not follow suit.

Dubbed the Advancing Competency-Based Education Act of 2017, the proposed legislation would require an annual evaluation of each competency-based education program in the project to measure quality, student progress toward degrees and their ability to pay off loans and find employment after graduation. It also would require accrediting agencies for participating institutions to set standards for competency-based education.

Information gleaned from the project could be used by Congress as it seeks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which is the law that governs federal financial aid.

"Nowadays more and more college students are older, returning for a degree after years in the work force and pursuing their studies while working full-time simultaneously," Polis said in a written statement. "That’s why with the input of forward-thinking schools, like Colorado State University Global, this legislation will allow more students to get credit for what they know, rather than how much time they spend in the classroom."

June 12, 2017

The National Science Foundation should clearly state the most important questions to be addressed by the social, behavioral and economic sciences, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a report published Friday. The academies called for the NSF to articulate those questions as part of a transparent strategic planning process -- one of four recommendations outlined in the report to assist researchers in those disciplines in meeting the challenges faced by the country.

The report also recommended that the agency continue to back the development of research tools, support scientific training and improve public communication of the results of scientific research. The study was sponsored by the NSF.

“Nearly every major challenge the United States faces -- from alleviating unemployment to protecting itself from terrorism -- requires understanding the causes and consequences of people’s behavior,” said Alan Leshner, the CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the chair of the committee that produced the report. “The diverse disciplines of the social, behavioral and economic sciences produce fundamental knowledge and tools that provide a greater understanding of why people and societies respond the way they do, what they find important and what they believe and value -- which is critical for the country’s well-being.”

Leshner said although the NSF commendably consults advisory groups and the broader scientific community, it is unclear how that input is reflected in research priorities for the SBE fields.

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