Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 3, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Anna Amirkhanyan, professor of public administration and policy at American University, explores how different populations around the world perceived their governments” responses to COVID. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 2, 2023

Finlandia University announced Thursday that it will not enroll students for the upcoming academic year and has teach-out agreements in place as it prepares to close.

In a statement announcing the looming closure, the Board of Trustees pointed to demographic changes that have led to a “steep decrease in interest in going to college.”

“I want to assure you that the Board of Trustees made every effort possible to work with President [Timothy] Pinnow and his leadership team to avoid this conclusion. We, as a board and leadership team, left no stone unturned in our attempts to move Finlandia forward toward a healthier future. While none of us wanted this day to come, we also have realized that in order to honor Finlandia’s 126‐year‐old legacy appropriately, we must end its operations with as much grace and dignity as possible,” the board statement said.

Finlandia, a private Lutheran college in Michigan, enrolled 424 students in fall 2021, according to the most recent data available from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. IPEDS data show that enrollment has fluctuated in recent years but mostly numbered fewer than 500 students in any given year.

Finlandia University is one of a handful of colleges that have announced closures in recent months, including Presentation College, ASA College, Cazenovia College, Holy Names University and Living Arts College.

Given the economic challenges driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, the end of federal coronavirus relief money, fewer high school graduates to recruit and continuing inflation, experts have suggested that 2023 may see a higher number of colleges close than usual.

March 2, 2023

Iowa lawmakers are the latest to take aim at diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, with a Republican legislator filing a bill this week to ban spending on DEI efforts at state universities, according to The Gazette.

Filed Tuesday night, the bill would ban colleges from spending any state dollars on DEI. It would also require institutions to reallocate unspent money from the current budget year away from campus DEI offices and toward scholarship programs instead.

DEI initiatives have increasingly come under fire from conservative lawmakers, many of whom conflate them with critical race theory, a once-obscure academic concept concerning issues of systemic and structural racism. Critics have claimed colleges and universities use CRT to promote a liberal historical view, tantamount to liberal indoctrination.

The move in Iowa follows similar anti-DEI efforts elsewhere, including in Florida and Texas.

Florida lawmakers, in particular, have battled against DEI on the macro and micro level, with Republican legislators pushing to defund DEI efforts at state universities in a recent bill. On Tuesday, conservative trustees at the New College of Florida voted to eliminate the college’s DEI office.

Model legislation from the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank aims to take the fight national, providing a road map for officials to defund DEI initiatives at state universities.

March 2, 2023

The 2023 update to the Academic Freedom Index, released Thursday, paints a bleak picture for the U.S. and the world.

“Academic freedom is in retreat for over 50 percent of the world’s population—4 billion people,” the accompanying report says. “This year’s update of the AFI identifies 22 countries and territories where universities and scholars enjoy significantly less freedom today than 10 years ago. During the same period, academic freedom has improved in only five small countries, which benefits a mere 0.7 percent of the global population. Academic freedom is stagnating in most countries (152), often at far too low a level.”

The United States is among the countries that have “undergone significant and substantial declines in academic freedom since 2012,” the report says.

Atop overall findings, the report says it highlights “India, China, the USA and Mexico to illustrate different levels and patterns of backsliding in populous autocratic and democratic countries.”

Katrin Kinzelbach, an author of the report and a professor at Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, wrote in an email that the index “is the result of an international collaboration involving 2,197 country experts worldwide, coordinated by researchers” at her university’s Institute of Political Science and Sweden’s University of Gothenburg V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute.

March 2, 2023

The executive committee of Boston University’s Board of Trustees voted not to pre-emptively restrict the university from investing in civilian gun manufacturers, saying those companies did not meet the board’s criteria for a level of social harm justifying divestment. Those criteria include a stipulation that the harm caused by the industry in question should clearly outweigh any “negative consequences” of divestment—including “censorship of competing views within the University.”

The university does not currently hold any investments in the firearms industry, but the trustees’ decision keeps the door open to such investments in the future.

The committee’s decision is also a rejection of a petition started last June by student Shana Weitzen urging the university to prohibit new investments in the firearms industry in light of a rise in mass shootings and gun violence. Weitzen initially sent the petition to the board’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), which voted to recommend noninvestment in gun manufacturers to the executive committee. At the time of the vote, the petition had more than 1,200 signatures.

The decision comes after a month marred by a series of mass shootings, including one at Michigan State University in which three students were killed.

“I am sure that this outcome is disappointing to [some], but I can report that there was thoughtful discussion of the issue and an appreciation for the harm caused by gun violence,” said Richard Reidy, a member of the board and chair of the ACSRI.

It’s the second time Boston University’s trustees have rejected calls to divest from gun manufacturers. The first, in 2015, was prompted by the public outcry after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting.

In 2021, the university announced it would divest from the $200 billion fossil fuel industry, joining a growing list of higher education institutions that have deemed gas and oil companies unethical investments. Higher education institutions’ ties to the comparatively smaller $20 billion civilian firearm industry have also come under increased scrutiny in recent years, though firearm divestment movements have been less successful.

March 2, 2023

Nearly two dozen employees, or 13 percent of the workforce, at Bloomfield College will lose their jobs as part of the merger with Montclair State University, according to NJ.com.

Of those 22 employees, 10 are faculty members, NJ.com reported.

The workforce reduction comes as the two institutions prepare to merge this summer. Montclair State University will absorb Bloomfield College in a deal minted last fall after Bloomfield president Marcheta Evans made a public appeal for help in 2021 to stave off a potential closure.

The merger is a unique example of a public institution, Montclair State, acquiring a struggling private college, which is uncommon in higher education.

The workforce cuts are indicative of broader challenges in mergers as colleges come together. Oftentimes the acquiring partner will shed employees to avoid duplication in certain areas or trim programs, as St. Joseph’s University did earlier this year when officials dropped four Ph.D. programs it acquired after it absorbed the University of the Sciences.

Montclair State president Jonathan Koppell told NJ.com that the university was trying to offer jobs to as many Bloomfield employees as possible while being “good financial stewards.”

March 2, 2023

Southeastern Louisiana University is operating without most computer networks, which were taken down Friday due to a “network incident,” 4WWL News reported.

State police and the governor’s Office of Homeland Security are now investigating a possible cyberthreat.

Email has been restored, but the Moodle system and basic internet access are not working.

“I don’t think I realized how much we actually rely on the internet until this happened,” said Ollie Diamini, a sophomore.

March 2, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Angela Murolo, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at St. Francis College, says one group may find it particularly hard to re-enter society after leaving prison. Learn more about the Academic Minute here

March 1, 2023

The New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to eliminate its Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence, striking a blow against diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at NCF.

Trustees, led by a swath of new conservative appointees installed by Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, and the Republican-led Florida Board of Governors, voted 10 to 3 to eliminate the office and authorize college leaders to make personnel changes, as needed. The office, according to a report delivered at the meeting, has four full-time employees.

The move comes despite student protests on campus and a fiery public comment portion of the meeting that questioned the actions of trustees on stifling DEI efforts. Commenters also criticized the hiring of Richard Corcoran, a former Florida politician with ties to board members, as interim president with a nearly $400,000 raise over his predecessor, who was pushed out amid reforms by the board. (Concerns have since emerged that the college's foundation does not have the funds to pay that salary; Florida law only allows state funds to cover $200,000 of a president’s salary.)

Chris Rufo, a new trustee and anti-DEI activist, who led the charge in taking down the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence, took a victory lap on Twitter after Tuesday’s meeting.

“BREAKING: New College of Florida has become the first university in the nation to abolish its DEI bureaucracy, ban coercive ‘diversity’ statements and programming, and prohibit identity-based preferences in hiring, admissions, and other procedures,” Rufo tweeted.

The move to eliminate the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence, which handles DEI efforts alongside multiple other initiatives, comes just ahead of Florida’s legislative session, in which lawmakers will look to defund state DEI initiatives and enact other reforms.

March 1, 2023

The Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area has issued a new report on preventing gun violence, which asserts that mental health services should be treated as a crucial part of any solution and that the root causes, namely poverty and economic insecurity, should be addressed.

The consortium last June enlisted more than 100 experts in fields from public health to business to “identify the most practical, actionable, and preferably non-legislative solutions to reducing gun violence.” The report is the result of eight months of “open, and at times contentious,” debate among those experts.

The authors pointed out that research on gun violence reduction strategies is lacking and stressed that nonlegislative solutions “by no means replace the need for legislation.” They also noted the experts were in “near consensus” on the benefits of pairing legislative action with measures that target social causes like mental health and poverty.

The recommendations come on the heels of one of the worst years for gun violence in U.S. history, marked by the tragic shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., that left 21 victims dead—19 of them students from age 9 to 11. It also marks the end of a month marred by a series of mass shootings, including one campus shooting at Michigan State University in which three students were killed.

Consortium president and CEO Andrew Flagel wrote in a statement that the initiative “reflects higher education at its very best: bringing experts with disparate backgrounds and beliefs together to address our most challenging problems.”

He was grateful to the participants, he said—“especially as a Michigan State alumnus.”


Back to Top