Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 10, 2017

Before a 2014 University of California, Berkeley, alumna filed a lawsuit against a distinguished philosophy professor there last month, the institution had fielded sexual misconduct complaints about the 84-year-old professor from at least three other women, BuzzFeed News found.

Berkeley officials in the philosophy department were also aware that John R. Searle, the professor, had made inappropriate comments in some of his classes.

Joanna Ong, who served as Searle’s research assistant, is accusing the professor of firing her from that position after she rejected his sexual advances. BuzzFeed obtained documents from the university that show Searle was accused of sexual harassment on multiple previous occasions.

In 2014, a student said the professor declined to offer her a position as his research assistant because she was married. The year before that, an international exchange student said he tried to kiss her. And in 2004, a student said Searle tried to play with her feet under the table at a dinner for prospective students.

Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination is reviewing Ong’s complaint, as it said it did with the three previous complaints. Searle has denied all such claims.

April 10, 2017

Details of the allegations that led Coastal Carolina University to suspend its cheerleading team have emerged. The Sun News obtained a report of a criminal investigation conducted by the university after it received a letter saying that some members of the team were engaged in prostitution. The investigation found "evidence of an escort service" involving team members, as well as evidence that others were working as strippers. A lawyer representing some of the cheerleaders has denounced the reports as false. But the criminal investigative report found that some team members were paid up to $1,500 for each date.

The dates were set up through the website Seeking Arrangement. The site describes itself as a place for "sugar daddies" and young women to make "arrangements" to spend time together. The company's CEO posted to Twitter denouncing the way the cheerleaders have been described as prostitutes.

April 10, 2017

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal may be poised to sign new legislation to permit guns on college campuses this week, but the absence of a comma in a provision excluding some campus locations from legal firearms may have legal implications, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Deal vetoed the campus carry bill last year after lawmakers chose not to honor his request that the measure make exceptions for certain areas of campus. However, the House and Senate recently compromised and approved a bill that would permit guns on campus but bar them in child care facilities, certain faculty and administrative offices, and spaces used to hold disciplinary discussions.

Although the new version of the gun measure is more in line with what Deal requested about a year ago, a Democratic aide identified a grammatical error that may stand in the way of the governor’s signature.

One of the exemptions is written to say that the bill does “not apply to faculty, staff, or administrative offices or rooms where disciplinary proceedings are conducted.”

The aide, Stefan Turkheimer, wrote on GeorgiaPol.com that the absence of a comma after the word “offices” could change the application of the legislation. The bill is meant to exclude “faculty, staff or administrative offices” as well as “rooms where disciplinary proceedings are conducted,” but as Turkheimer said, “without that comma, it’s just two clauses both modifying ‘offices or rooms.’”

He goes on: “This reading becomes even more persuasive when you consider that both of these area exceptions, if they were meant to be separate, could, and perhaps should, have been put into different clauses. … So unless faculty offices are also rooms where 'disciplinary hearings are conducted,' they would not be exempted. Let’s just ignore whether these rooms are off-limits only when they are being used for disciplinary hearings or whether they are off-limits from carrying at all times because sometimes they host disciplinary meetings (makes less sense, but that’s what the bill says).”

April 10, 2017

A bipartisan proposal in the U.S. Senate would open up Pell Grants to low-income students who earn college credits while still enrolled in high school.

The bill introduced last week by Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, and Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, would allow Pell Grant funding for transferable college credits, including general-education requirements, that students complete in an early-college program offered by an accredited institution. The proposed legislation comes as Republicans increasingly have voiced support for dual-enrollment and early-college programs.

“While wages have been largely flat over the past 10 years, the average cost of college tuition and fees at national universities has more than doubled,” Portman said in a written statement. “A lot of families are feeling squeezed, and for kids from low-income households, college can feel out of reach. Our legislation would let them get a head start on college, make it more affordable for them and help them get on track to live out their dreams.”

April 10, 2017

Kean University has settled an age discrimination lawsuit filed by one of its former administrators, NJ.com reported. The New Jersey institution did not admit any wrongdoing in the suit but agreed to fork out $375,000 in the settlement.

William DeGarcia filed the age discrimination lawsuit after Kean overlooked him for a promotion in January 2013 and instead offered the position to a less experienced woman under the age of 40. In the suit, DeGarcia, who was 55 at the time, said the university was looking for “new blood.”

DeGarcia had held multiple positions at the university, including three years as interim director of the Exceptional Educational Opportunities and Educational Opportunity Fund Program. His contributions as director were noticed by Governor Chris Christie and Senator Robert Menendez.

Kean settled the suit in December for $375,000, with $260,000 to be paid directly to DeGarcia.

April 10, 2017

A new study out of Vanderbilt University seeks to quantify loan aversion among different populations.

The study, “Understanding Loan Aversion in Education: Evidence From High School Seniors, Community College Students and Adults,” is based on survey data from 6,000 people.

Among high school seniors, students at community college and adults without a college degree, the majority of each group believe it’s a good idea to save up enough money before making a purchase (as opposed to borrowing money to buy). More specifically, 21 percent of high school students and 20 percent of non-college-educated adults did not think it was acceptable to borrow money for education, while only 9 percent of community college students felt that way. Over half of the community college students surveyed had borrowed money to attend their current school.

The authors -- Angela Boatman, Brent J. Evans and Adela Saliz, all three of whom are assistant professors of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt -- also found that women are less loan averse than men and that Hispanic students tend to be more loan averse than white students.


April 10, 2017

Rice University will change the term used for its residential faculty members from “college masters” to “college magisters” at the start of the next academic year, in an effort to distance itself from the “negative historical connotation” of the word “master,” The Houston Chronicle reported.

Last week, the dean of undergraduates emailed students to inform them of the change, saying that the decision had been in consideration for more than a year.

At Rice, all undergraduate students are part of one of 11 residential colleges, each of which is overseen by a college master or masters. Masters are faculty members who live next to the college and who “have the overall responsibility for all aspects of student life in the college, including encouragement of broad cultural and intellectual interests, caring for the well-being of the self and others, and effective self-government within the college,” according to Rice’s website.

The dean of undergraduates explained to students that the title “college masters” was sometimes difficult to explain to current and prospective students, faculty and staff. He wrote that the name change, which will occur when the 2017-18 academic year begins, came out of “collaboration and constructive dialogue, and not from confrontation or controversy.”

A similar change occurred at Princeton University in November 2015, when the "masters" of the residential colleges there retired the term and began using 'head of the college" instead. 

April 10, 2017

A top administrator at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga pushed for a university-funded radio reporter to be fired -- not suspended -- after lawmakers expressed discontent with the way she handled herself reporting on a story about them, new emails obtained by The Chattanooga Times Free Press revealed.

Steve Angle, chancellor at UTC, wrote in an email last month that “the potential repercussions for the state representative and UTC are huge. We could easily lose all funding we are providing to WUTC.”

Jacqui Helbert sat in on a meeting with state legislators and high school students, wearing bulky recording equipment, including headphones and a microphone, and a badge that identified her as a WUTC reporter. WUTC is funded by UTC.

Still, Helbert never explicitly declared herself a journalist to the lawmakers, and when her story -- which has since been removed -- about the meeting came out, several of the state representatives complained that she disguised her identity and listened in on a private meeting.

Helbert disagreed, saying, “It was glaringly obvious who I was,” but the university proceeded to fire her for the incident.

“I do not see an offense that is much worse,” Angle wrote in an email. “I feel we are gambling with the future of WUTC.”

Helbert has filed a lawsuit against UTC asking that she be reinstated to her position with WUTC and reimbursed up to $1 million in damages.

Since her termination, several donors have expressed fury at the university’s handling of the situation, threatening to withdraw future financial contributions, according to the Times Free Press.

April 10, 2017

The University of Wisconsin System is being sued by two of its transgender employees because the system and the state insurance board will no longer cover gender reassignment surgeries, The Associated Press reported.

Both employees identify as female and work at the Madison campus, one as an anthropology graduate student and the other as a cancer researcher. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit last week on their behalf.

Because both employees are on the university’s health insurance plan and that plan no longer covers medical procedures surrounding gender dysphoria -- the condition in which someone feels they were born into the body of the wrong sex -- they are accusing the university and insurance board of discrimination by sex and gender.

“Too many transgender people continue to face discrimination in all facets of life, including health care access, and so I felt compelled to stand up and try to do something about it,” one of the plaintiffs, Alina Boyden, said in a news release.

Last summer, the state’s insurance board added benefits for gender dysphoria that could account for up to $150,000, but in December, before the benefits went into effect, the board voted to exclude the benefits.

Both plaintiffs have been advised by their primary care physicians to seek gender reassignment surgery. Without coverage under their university insurance plans, they would either have to opt out of the procedures or pay thousands of dollars out of pocket.

April 10, 2017

An Arizona appeals court ruling last week overturned a state law that barred medical marijuana on college or university campuses, Capitol Media Services reported. The appeals court noted that the 2010 measure passed by state voters to legalize medical marijuana specified the places -- public schools, school buses and jails -- where the legalization would not apply. Legislators, the appeals court said, lacked the authority to add those places.


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