Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 7, 2018

A Peking University student who filed a request for records related to an alleged rape of a student by a professor 20 years ago said university officials tried to intimidate her after she submitted the request, National Public Radio reported. The student, Yue Xin, said that university authorities told her she was being manipulated by hostile foreign forces and that she could be prosecuted for treason or separatism for requesting the information.

Yue also said she was woken by her college adviser and her mother in her dorm room after midnight and told to stay away from the case and delete all related material on her electronic devices. Yue's parents subsequently took her home and grounded her.

Administrators at Peking, an elite Chinese university in Beijing, did not respond to NPR’s inquiries about the case. Yue has remained defiant.

"Was the freedom of information request a crime?" she wrote. "I'd done nothing wrong, and could not regret exercising my glorious right as a Peking University student."

May 7, 2018

The University of Virginia on Friday announced changes to its rules on the use of campus by groups unaffiliated with the university. The university has been considering its rules since last year's march through the campus by white nationalists shouting Nazi chants. While the march violated some university rules, officials discovered relatively few limits on use of the campus. The new rules do not relate to the political stances of any planned activity, but do set new rules on places that may be used and the need to reserve space in advance. The new rules do not change procedures for groups affiliated with the university.

May 7, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Amy Cook, associate professor in English and theater arts at Stony Brook University, discusses how casting that goes beyond our expectations can bring new narratives to the forefront. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 4, 2018

A University of California, Berkeley, commission has recommended the institution either add or modify campus free speech zones, make police presence less intimidating at disruptive events, and explore whether it can cap security costs.

Following last year, when Berkeley was the site of multiple controversial events -- notably an appearance by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos that devolved into riots -- Chancellor Carol Christ asked a group of students, faculty and staff to consider how the institution could better manage these incidents.

The commission's report offers several suggestions -- perhaps the most notable among them is that the university could look into capping security costs for certain events. Commission members wrote they were divided whether to wholeheartedly recommend this because courts have generally ruled against institutions that cite money as a reason to not bring a speaker to campus.

“The campus should not have to expend scarce resources to protect celebrity provocateurs seeking to promote their brand (and, in some cases, to cast aspersions on higher education) when so many essential needs go unfunded or underfunded,” the commission wrote.

The commission added that any spending limit might seem arbitrary, given the institution’s $2.7 billion operating budget.

It also recommended that the university try to add a new free speech zone other than the currently designated parts of Sproul Plaza, which has traditionally been used for impromptu gatherings and is exempt from most university policy.

The university could add the West Crescent as a free speech zone similar to Sproul Plaza and decide whether to keep the lower part of the plaza open or closed to those types of events.

“In either scenario, if using Upper and/or Lower Sproul Plaza requires security measures that significantly disrupt university business, campus administration should use the legal means at its disposal to direct the event to West Crescent,” the report states.

The commission also noted that some students and professors of color felt uncomfortable with the heavy police presence at an event in September, because of the historically rocky relationship between certain minority groups and law enforcement. It recommended more plainclothes officers or allowing some students to act as monitors who could report trouble to police.

May 4, 2018

The Department of Education told a federal judge Thursday that it would terminate a January contract award to two debt collection firms as it reassesses its strategy for serving borrowers in default on their federal student loans.

The department said in the filing that it plans to start “significant engagement” with borrowers as early as 90 days after they become delinquent on their student loans. Borrowers are considered to be in default when they go more than 270 days without making a payment on their federal student loans.

Those as yet unspecified outreach efforts would reduce the volume of borrowers in default, improve service to delinquent borrowers, and lower delinquency levels as well, the department argued.

In January, the department said in another court filing that it would award contracts to collect on defaulted student loans to two firms, Performant Recovery Inc. and Windham Professionals. The same week, it issued notices terminating collection contracts for seven firms originally issued in December 2016. Those awards, made under the Obama administration, set off a protracted legal fight that’s continued for more than a year.

The contract awards to Performant and Windham could be valued at as much as $400 million.

"The current private collection agencies (PCA) under contract with ED have sufficient capacity to absorb the number of accounts expected to need debt collection services while the process for transitioning to the new approach is developed and implemented," the department said in its court filing Thursday. "Therefore, additional PCA contract work is not currently needed."

May 4, 2018

The Foghorn News, the student newspaper at Del Mar College, is being accused of running pornography, McClatchy News reported. At issue is a feature that the newspaper's editors say was intended as humor for those stressed by finals. The full article may be found here. One example from the article is below.

May 4, 2018

Infractions committees in all three National College Athletic Association divisions have imposed punishments in recent weeks, on sports programs at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, the University of Southern Indiana and California State University at Sacramento.

  • The NCAA's Division III Committee on Infractions ruled Thursday that a former soccer coach at Mount Saint Vincent arranged for his father to co-sign a student loan application for a recruited athlete, a violation of association rules governing extra benefits for athletes. The athletics director then violated ethical conduct rules by lying about approving the arrangement. Mount Saint Vincent must vacate victories in which the ineligible athlete participated and pay $1,000 fine.
  • A booster at Southern Indiana bought a men's basketball recruit a laptop and initiated a series of improper calls and text messages, the Division II Committee on Infractions found last month. The booster was disassociated from the program for five years.
  • Sacramento State failed to monitor its men's and women's tennis programs, and a former director of the tennis programs took advantage by breaking a wide range of recruiting, eligibility, financial aid and other rules over five years, the Division I Committee on Infractions ruled last month. The university barred its women's tennis team from postseason play for two years, among other penalties imposed by the institution and the NCAA.
May 4, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Sabine Huemer, visiting assistant professor at Whittier College, examines autism from an inclusive viewpoint to recognize the strengths as well as the deficits. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 4, 2018

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is among a group of high-flying investors who have lost millions of dollars investing in the disgraced Silicon Valley startup Theranos Inc.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the details late Thursday, saying DeVos' family invested $100 million in the blood-testing company, according to previously sealed documents made public this week.  

In a government filing, DeVos had earlier said that her family had invested in the company, but the exact amount was undisclosed. 

The scandal-plagued Palo Alto, Calif., company is expected to be liquidated later this year, after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said its claims of developing a "groundbreaking" technology that would revolutionize blood testing were false. Its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, settled the charges without admitting wrongdoing, but she also gave back a portion of her company stock, relinquished voting control of the company and paid a $500,000 penalty.

Other investors face large losses as well, The Journal reported, including the heirs of Walmart Inc. founder Sam Walton, who invested $150 million; News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, who invested $125 million; and Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, who lost $30 million.

The investors' losses were revealed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco. The documents were unsealed as part of a lawsuit brought against Theranos by Robert Colman, the former Robertson Stephens & Co. co-founder, who has alleged that Theranos made false and misleading claims about its operations and technology. The company denies the charges.

Greg McNeilly, chief operating officer of Windquest Group, the DeVos family holding company, told The Journal that the $100 million investment was made by "many members of the DeVos family,” not just the secretary and her husband. “To say they’re highly disappointed in Theranos as a company and an investment is an understatement,” he said.

May 4, 2018

Several hundred students at Swarthmore College, some of them engaged in a sit-in, have this week been protesting the college's handling of sex assault cases and of issues related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The students outline many of their concerns -- some of which relate to currently vacant positions -- on a Facebook page. Many students involved in the protest are posting photographs about why they are doing so. The college's president, Valerie Smith, sent a message to students and faculty members saying that Swarthmore officials are working to fill the vacant positions and are committed to responsibly handling complaints of sexual violence.

A black woman student holding a sign saying, "Why I sit-in: as opposed to the deans, I understand the importance of supporting, listening and standing with survivors."

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