Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 9, 2023

The faculty committee that criticized the University of Arizona in the wake of professor Thomas Meixner’s murder won’t continue its inquiry.

This comes after Pam Scott, a university spokeswoman, said the committee’s January interim report “reached sweeping conclusions based in large part on misleading characterizations and the selective use of facts and quotations.”

“We encourage everyone to await the comprehensive PAX Group report,” Scott wrote in early February, referring to the group of “outside safety and security experts” the university commissioned for a review.

On Friday, members of the faculty committee wrote a letter to the chair and vice chair of the faculty.

“Our inquiry intended to complement, not duplicate or challenge, investigations of hired security experts who were selected by the university leadership and who report to the university leadership,” they wrote. “The alternative to the committee’s inquiry is exclusive reliance on external experts who were selected by the university leadership, who report to the university leadership, and whose scope of engagement is vague.”

“Together, the university leadership’s dismissive approach to the committee and withdrawal of cooperation with the committee have undermined the committee’s ability to complete its inquiry,” they wrote. “The assumption that [university] employees [with safety responsibilities] feel safe to share their concerns and experiences with experts who report to the university leadership warrants reconsideration.”

“The university leadership has also declined multiple opportunities to diffuse [sic] concerns that service on the committee might result in negative consequences, including hard and soft forms of retaliation,” they wrote.

“It is the duty of the leadership to ensure that the organization has a coherent risk oversight framework and [to] foster a healthy organizational culture,” they wrote. “The university leadership, the committee believes, failed to meet this duty and there are no indications that any steps will be made to address the concerns outlined in the interim report.”

The January report argued that many at the university should have known that an expelled graduate student now accused of the murder was dangerous—long before he allegedly shot Meixner, chairman of the Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences (HAS) Department, multiple times in his own workplace.

Yet, the report said, multiple parts of the university repeatedly failed to effectively respond. It said the alleged killer had harassed “four HAS faculty members, a female undergraduate student and a Dean of Students (DOS) administrator.”

On Wednesday, Scott, the university spokeswoman, provided a statement from Jon Dudas, the university’s senior vice president and chief of staff.

“We appreciate the work the committee put into their report and that the committee’s entire record has been made available to the PAX Group—the third-party safety and security experts conducting an independent review of the events leading up to the tragic killing of our colleague Thomas Meixner and campus security in general,” Dudas said. “The university will continue to implement actions to advance campus safety and security and looks forward to reviewing and responding to the PAX Group’s findings and recommendations.”

March 9, 2023

Two Brown University basketball players have sued the Ivy League over its prohibition on athletic scholarships, alleging the policy amounts to price fixing and denies athletes proper compensation for their services, the Associated Press reported.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut by lawyers representing Grace Kirk, a member of the Brown women’s basketball team, and Tamenang Choh, who played on the men’s team from 2017 to 2022. They are seeking class action status so the suit would cover all current athletes at the eight Ivy League institutions as well as former athletes recruited since March 2019.

The lawsuit argues that Brown, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Cornell Universities, Dartmouth College, and the University of Pennsylvania have illegally conspired to limit financial aid by banning athletic scholarships.

“Regardless of whether considered as a restraint on the price of education, the value of financial aid, the price of athletic services, or the level of compensation to Ivy League athletes, the Ivy League Agreement is per se illegal,” the lawsuit states.

Robin Harris, the Ivy League executive director, defended the no-scholarship policy.

“The Ivy League athletics model is built upon the foundational principle that student-athletes should be representative of the wider student body, including the opportunity to receive need-based financial aid,” she told the AP in a statement. “In turn, choosing and embracing that principle then provides each Ivy League student-athlete a journey that balances a world-class academic experience with the opportunity to compete in Division I athletics and ultimately paves a path for lifelong success.”

Lawyers for the basketball players noted that other elite higher ed institutions—including Stanford and Duke—offer athletic scholarships without compromising academic quality.

“These schools are not part of the Ivy League, but they demonstrate they can maintain stellar academic standards while competing for excellent athletes, and without agreed upon limits on price,” the lawsuit said.

March 9, 2023

The faculty of Connecticut College voted that it had no confidence in the performance of President Katherine Bergeron, The Day reported.

The vote was 149 in favor, 11 against and eight abstaining.

Bergeron has been under fire for weeks at the college over a planned fundraiser that was set to be held at the Everglades Club, one of the oldest and most exclusive country clubs in Palm Beach, Fla. The venue has a history of racial discrimination and antisemitism; it famously barred both Black crooner Sammy Davis Jr. and Jewish fashion mogul Estée Lauder from even entering.

But students and faculty have raised other issues as well, including the president's commitment to shared governance.

March 9, 2023

A student pilot at Polk State College and his flight instructor were killed Tuesday when their plane collided with another small plane.

Killed were Zachary Mace, the student, and Faith Irene Baker, his instructor. Baker worked for Sunrise Aviation, which provided planes and instructors to Polk State.

“Our Polk State College family is devastated by this tragedy,” Polk State president Angela Garcia Falconetti said. “We extend our deepest condolences to their families, friends and colleagues.”

March 9, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute, part of SUNY Distinguished Professor Week: Ian Reifowitz, Distinguished Professor of History at SUNY Empire State College, explores whether the U.S. is a republic or a democracy, and why it matters. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 8, 2023

The union that says it includes nearly 2,500 Temple University faculty members, professional librarians and academic professionals is still discussing whether to hold a no-confidence vote in Temple’s “central administration.”

The Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) is separate from the currently striking graduate student workers’ union but likewise affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

On Friday, TAUP announced in a news release that 580 of its members had gathered virtually to discuss a possible no-confidence vote.

The release said there have been layoffs, decreases in tenured positions and class size increases. At the end of the release, TAUP also mentioned the graduate student workers union’s continued lack of a contract and ongoing public safety concerns—a campus police officer was killed last month.

On Tuesday, TAUP announced that in its executive committee emergency meeting Monday, “the union’s elected leadership decided that the serious concerns raised by our members and others across the university community necessitated a public vote by the union on whether to authorize a vote of no confidence.” 

The Tuesday announcement said there will be another meeting, on March 17, where “union members will have the chance to speak for or against the motion, and the meeting will end with a public vote. If the motion is successful, TAUP will initiate an official vote of no confidence the following week.”

Temple said negotiations with the graduate student workers’ union resumed Tuesday, for the first time in a week.

“We are aware of the prospect of a no-confidence vote in our senior university leaders,” a Temple spokesman said. “We are hopeful that the outcome of the discussions is that faculty members will continue to work with us to address the serious issues facing the university.”

March 8, 2023

A racial discrimination lawsuit filed by about a dozen former University of Iowa football players has been settled for $4.175 million, the Associated Press reported.

The players, who are Black, alleged the use of racial slurs as well as being required to abandon hairstyles and other aspects of their culture to fit in with what the lawsuit called the “Iowa Way” under Coach Kirk Ferentz. The players, who filed the lawsuit in 2020, also alleged they were retaliated against after speaking out about their treatment.

Ferentz, the university’s head coach since 1999, said in a statement that he was “greatly disappointed” in how the lawsuit was resolved and that he believed “the case would have been dismissed with prejudice before trial.” Ferentz also noted that he and other coaches were dismissed from the lawsuit as part of the settlement and that “there is no admission of any wrongdoing.”

A state board Monday approved $2 million in taxpayer money to go toward the settlement, with the rest coming from the university’s athletics department, The Des Moines Register reported. The state’s auditor, Rob Sand, blasted the leadership of Gary Barta​, the university’s athletic director, in a statement that noted previous lawsuits.

“The athletic department, they’ve got the funds for it. The broadcast deal brings tens of millions of dollars every year going forward. I don’t know why they can’t cover their own mistakes and pay for their own mistakes instead of having taxpayers do it,” Sand said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.

March 8, 2023

Nick Swayne is again the president of North Idaho College.

The board, which placed him on administrative leave without cause in December, on Monday acted on the orders of State Judge Cynthia Meyer. In her ruling, Meyer said, “The board’s majority has wrongfully locked its captain in the brig while steering NIC toward an iceberg. The board’s decision to keep him on leave without cause is hostile and arbitrary.” She added, “It appears that the investigation [into Swayne] is a sham and a pretext for Dr. Swayne’s removal from his position as president.” She granted a preliminary injunction ordering the reinstatement.

“The majority of the board members don’t necessarily agree with the court order, but the college will abide by the court’s ruling,” Chair Greg McKenzie said prior to the vote, reported by The Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press.

A crowd of 90 people watched the meeting, and most of them broke into applause after the vote.

North Idaho College is facing a show cause letter from its accreditor and widespread anger over Swayne’s dismissal and other issues.

March 8, 2023

Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, rejected the work of an artist asked to contribute to an exhibition at the college because the work involved discussion of abortions, The Post Register reported.

Lydia Nobel, a New York artist, told the news outlet she was surprised to learn her piece, “As I Sit Waiting,” a series of four interviews—three on video and one on audio—with women discussing reproductive health care, including abortions, would not be included in the “Unconditional Care” exhibition about women’s health.

College officials removed her work and those of other artists from the lineup, citing Idaho’s No Public Funds for Abortion Act, which “prohibits the use of public funds for abortion, including speech that would ‘promote abortion’ or ‘counsel in favor of abortion.’”

The director of the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Arts & Culture Advocacy Program, the head of the ACLU of Idaho, and others wrote to LCSC president Cynthia Pemberton asking for Noble’s work to be included in the exhibit.

“We’re disappointed that the college decided to move in this direction,” Leo Morales, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho told The Post Register. “We hope that other colleges and universities across the state don’t move in the same direction.”

March 8, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Russell Briggs, Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, examines the complexity of what is below our feet. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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