Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, November 12, 2015 - 3:00am

Is Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute the source that led the Federal Bureau of Investigation to identify and arrest suspects behind crimes committed on the "dark web"? Legal proceedings in a case against a Seattle man charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs last month revealed that a "university-based research institute" helped the agency identify people who were using Tor, software that complicates online surveillance by hiding its users among one another. In an article published on Wednesday, Motherboard, Vice Media's technology channel, suggested that Carnegie Mellon is the unnamed university.

Beyond relying on educated guesses from experts who have been following the case, Motherboard points to the fact that Alexander Volynkin and Michael McCord, two Carnegie Mellon researchers, previously said they had found a way to identify people using Tor. Volynkin planned to demonstrate how during a talk at a conference in early August 2014, but the talk was canceled about two weeks in advance. Then in late July, the Tor Project announced it had found and removed relays, which help anonymize users, "that we assume were trying to deanonymize users." The relays had first joined the network that January, a timeline that lines up with when federal law enforcement agents say they received information that helped them identify a staff member of an online drug marketplace.

The Tor Project on Wednesday also pointed the finger at Carnegie Mellon, saying in a blog post that the university received “at least $1 million” from the FBI for its involvement.

"This attack also sets a troubling precedent: civil liberties are under attack if law enforcement believes it can circumvent the rules of evidence by outsourcing police work to universities," the post reads. "If academia uses 'research' as a stalking horse for privacy invasion, the entire enterprise of security research will fall into disrepute. Legitimate privacy researchers study many online systems, including social networks. If this kind of FBI attack by university proxy is accepted, no one will have meaningful Fourth Amendment protections online and everyone is at risk."

A spokesperson for Carnegie Mellon declined to comment.

Thursday, November 12, 2015 - 3:00am

Ben Carson, a Republican presidential hopeful, on Wednesday blasted Democrats’ various plans for debt-free or tuition-free college, saying they would hasten “the destruction of the nation.”

Speaking at Liberty University, Carson warned against the dangers of uninformed voters who would believe “propaganda” from “unscrupulous politicians and news media.”

“If they don’t really understand the financial situation of the country and somebody comes along and says, ‘free college for everybody,’ they’ll say, ‘oh, what a wonderful person,’” Carson said. “They have no idea that all you’re talking about is hastening the destruction of the nation.”

Separately, one of Carson’s opponents in the GOP primary, Senator Marco Rubio, on Wednesday doubled down on his criticism of traditional higher education in Tuesday’s debate. His campaign sent out a fund-raising email reiterating Rubio’s call for “more welders and fewer philosophers.”

The New York Times, meanwhile, interviewed a philosopher turned welder who rejected the distinction between vocational skills and the liberal arts.

“It’s obviously kind of a reductive approach to think of your course of study in college as merely a means to a paycheck,” Michael Crawford, who earned his Ph.D. in political philosophy before becoming a mechanic in Virginia, told the Times. “And nobody goes into philosophy because they think it’s going to make them rich.”

Thursday, November 12, 2015 - 3:00am

The documentary The Hunting Ground provides “a seriously false picture both of the general sexual assault phenomenon at universities” and of a case involving Harvard University students, 19 Harvard law professors said in a statement Wednesday.

The film, released theatrically earlier this year, received critical acclaim and will air on CNN next week. It examines the issue of campus sexual assault, in particular at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the documentary’s two primary subjects were students. Their story, in which they become activists who travel around the country to inspire other victims to speak out and use the gender discrimination law Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to hold colleges accountable, provides the film’s narrative arc.

Along the way, the documentary takes frequent detours to call out a number of other institutions, including Harvard, for mishandling or ignoring the issue. That section of the film focuses on an assault allegedly committed by a law student there named Brandon Winston.

On Wednesday, a week before the documentary is set to air on CNN, the Harvard professors released a lengthy statement criticizing the film's portrayal of the accused student's case.

“There was never any evidence that Mr. Winston used force, nor were there even any charges that he used force,” the faculty wrote. “No evidence whatsoever was introduced at trial that he was the one responsible for the inebriated state of the women who are portrayed in the film as his victims. Nor was any body vested with final decision-making authority persuaded that Mr. Winston was guilty of any sexual assault offense at all. Mr. Winston was finally vindicated by the law school and by the judicial proceedings, and allowed to continue his career at the law school and beyond. Propaganda should not be allowed to erase this just outcome.”

Diane Rosenfeld, a Harvard law lecturer who did not sign Wednesday's statement, said she disagrees with her colleagues and agrees with documentary's findings. Rosenfeld was involved in Winston's disciplinary proceedings.

“I fully support the Hunting Ground film, which is all about ending the silencing of survivors,” she said. “I am bound by the principles of confidentiality under which the hearing was conducted, so I cannot say anything about the substance of the case. I can however say that the signatories of the press release represent only a minority of the [Harvard Law School] faculty.”

This is not the first time the filmmakers have had to defend The Hunting Ground against critics. Earlier this year, they posted a detailed fact page on the film's website after Slate published an article questioning some of the documentary's claims. The Harvard professors referenced that article in their statement Wednesday.

In an email, the filmmakers, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, noted that, in 2011, the Harvard Law Administrative Board found Winston responsible of engaging in sexual misconduct with the alleged victim while she was unconscious. But Harvard law professors overturned that ruling during the student's appeal. In December, the U.S. Department of Education determined that the appeal process in the case violated Title IX.

“The real injustice at the heart of this issue is that these Harvard Law professors have been completely absent regarding the hundreds, or even thousands, of assaults that have been happening on their campus for decades that have not been investigated or appropriately adjudicated,” the filmmakers wrote. “Where are the letters penned by these esteemed educators on behalf of the students who would truly benefit from their voices of support?”

Thursday, November 12, 2015 - 3:00am

Online education provider Udacity has achieved "unicorn" status, a term used by investors to describe companies that are valued at more than $1 billion. The company, which launched as a massive open online course provider but has since shifted its focus to course sequences it calls "nanodegrees," reached the milestone after securing another $105 million from investors. In a blog post, Udacity said the money will be used to expand the company's offerings.

Thursday, November 12, 2015 - 3:00am

A recently announced experiment by the U.S. Department of Education will allow a handful of nontraditional providers -- including boot camps and online course providers -- to team up with accredited colleges on academic offerings that will be eligible for federal financial aid. Applicants for the program are required to bring in an outside "quality-assurance entity," which will serve as an alternative form of accreditation.

Entangled Solutions, a higher education consulting firm, said this week that it is seeking to be one of those quality-assurance entities. The company released a white paper describing its philosophy on measuring quality in higher education. Those principles include a focus on outcomes -- including assessments of student learning.

"We intend to focus measurement on the value that each program claims it is providing students and match that with what students are in fact 'buying.' If, for example, a program claims to provide a career benefit, we will measure that benefit relative to the program’s cost, assess how the program’s benefit compares to alternative options, and report on what students say they wanted and received from the program," the paper said.

The new entity's quality-review standards -- and the findings from those reviews -- will be open and publicly available. Entangled Solutions is working with a few college partners to apply to participate in the federal experiment.

Paul Freedman, a principal consultant for the company, said the ultimate goal will be for the new form of accreditor to become an independent, nonprofit entity. The result would be a quality-review process and a set of standards without an owner.

"It would be better to have more of an open marketplace," Freedman said. "That's what we ultimately would like to happen."

Thursday, November 12, 2015 - 4:23am

David Geffen, the entertainment industry executive, is giving $100 million to the University of California at Los Angeles for the institution to create a school for grades 6-12. The effort is in part to create new options for education, with scholarships for low-income students. But a key motivating factor is to expand high-quality education options that would be available for the children of UCLA faculty members. Officials said the availability of affordable, high-quality education is a key factor in faculty recruitment efforts.

With this gift and others in the past, Geffen has donated a total of $400 million to UCLA.

Thursday, November 12, 2015 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Emilia Flint, assistant professor of psychology at Black Hills State University, discusses her research on how athletes from group cultures differ from those of individual ones. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 4:09am

Senator Marco Rubio stood out during Tuesday’s Republican debate as the only candidate to raise higher education as an issue. The Florida senator criticized an “outdated” higher education system. “It is too expensive, too hard to access, and it doesn't teach 21st-century skills,” he said. On the campaign trail, Rubio has similarly been critical of traditional higher education.

As he has on previous occasions, Rubio on Tuesday also singled out liberal arts education for special criticism, calling for a greater focus on vocational training.

“I don't know why we have stigmatized vocational education,” he said. “Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

Later, in his closing statement, Rubio lamented that many Americans have “thousands of dollars in student loans -- for a degree that doesn’t lead to a job.”

Gawker pointed out after the debate that Rubio was incorrect in stating that welders earn more than philosophers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for postsecondary philosophy and religion instructors is $63,630, while the median for welders and related fields is $37,420.

On one of the other times Rubio criticized philosophy, Amy E. Ferrer, executive director of the American Philosophical Association, said, “Rubio's refrain about the value of philosophy is unfortunate -- and misinformed. Philosophy teaches many of the skills most valued in today's economy: critical thinking, analysis, effective written and verbal communication, problem solving, and more. And philosophy majors' success is borne out in both data -- which show that philosophy majors consistently outperform nearly all other majors on graduate entrance exams such as the GRE and LSAT, and that philosophy ties with mathematics for the highest percentage increase from starting to midcareer salary.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 4:30am

A police officer at Spartanburg Methodist College on Monday night shot and killed a student at Limestone College, another South Carolina institution, when the officer said the student tried to run him over, The Greenville News reported. Police and witnesses say the officer was responding to reports of car break-ins in a dormitory parking lot. Authorities say when the officer tried to stop two suspects, the Limestone student got in a car and started driving toward the police officer as if to run him over, and the officer fired when the suspect refused to stop.

The officer was a white man and the student was a black man -- and South Carolina, like many other states, has been debating whether police officers are too quick to shoot when suspects are black males. Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said the shooting had “zero to do with color.” He said, “This has everything to do with an officer’s life being put in jeopardy and him defending himself lawfully.”

Spartanburg Methodist recently purchased body cameras for police officers, but they have yet to start using them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 3:00am

A new report from a broad, ongoing Gallup-Purdue University study of quality-of-life measures for college graduates looks at how veterans and active-duty members of the U.S. military are faring in higher education.

Veterans and service members are more likely than other college graduates to be thriving financially (54 percent compared with 43 percent) according the survey's results. However, less than a third of military and veteran graduates said their university understood their unique needs. Veterans who used the Post-9/11 GI Bill were more positive, the survey found.

In addition, a far larger percentage of students who served in the military while they were enrolled as undergraduates said their colleges understood their needs than did veterans who served before attending college.


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