Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 21, 2016

Alaska Pacific University has announced plans to become a tribally controlled college, Alaska Dispatch News reported. The plan is to become affiliated with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Alaska Pacific is well short of the requirement of having half of students be Native Alaskans or from other Native American groups, but officials said they expected to see enrollment of these students grow. Alaska Pacific was founded as Alaska Methodist University and maintains ties to Methodist groups.

December 21, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Shervin Assari, research investigator in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, details the reasons why members of one race might be more resilient than members of another. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

December 20, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday that it would block federal student aid funds to Charlotte School of Law as of Dec. 31, a major blow to the viability of the for-profit institution.

The American Bar Association placed the law school on probation last month, citing its failure to comply with standards that a program only admit applicants likely to succeed and pass the bar exam.

The department noted Charlotte's failure to comply with its accreditor's standards as well the department's regulations. And it said the law school had made substantial misrepresentations to students about the program's accreditation and the likelihood of graduates to pass the bar exam.

“The ABA repeatedly found that the Charlotte School of Law does not prepare students for participation in the legal profession. Yet CSL continuously misrepresented itself to current and prospective students as hitting the mark,” Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said in a statement. “CSL’s actions were misleading and dishonest. We can no longer allow them continued access to federal student aid.”

The law school received $48.5 million in federal student last year, mostly from federal student loans. The program has until Jan. 3 to submit evidence to dispute the findings of the department.

A statement released by the law school to The Charlotte Observer said that the institution had "no warning" that the action was about to be taken, nor an opportunity to discuss the penalties with federal officials. The statement added that the law school would respond to the federal complaint and "protect our students."

December 20, 2016

Syracuse University is suing its own lawyers over paperwork in a real estate deal turned sour.

The university filed suit against local law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King, charging legal malpractice over the way lawyers represented the university in a contract with a developer to build a $20 million fitness center and bookstore. A key clause was not included in legal documents, reported The Post-Standard.

That clause, a “time is of the essence” clause, would have allowed the university to break its contract with developer Cameron Hill Construction without fear of liability in the event that the developer missed a financing deadline. The university severed its contract with the developer in 2014 because of construction delays and a failure to secure financing. The developer is suing the university for ending the contract, blaming the university for delays and alleging breach of contract.

Bond, Schoeneck & King is the largest law firm in the city of Syracuse. It has represented Syracuse University for years, notably making $4 million in the 2012 fiscal year, the year the firm took part in investigating child-molestation charges against former associate basketball coach Bernie Fine.

New York City law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman is representing the university in the case against Bond, Schoeneck & King. The local law firm continues to represent the university regarding other issues, The Post-Standard reported.

December 20, 2016

A New York State appellate court has reinstated two professors’ lawsuit against New York University, which alleges that the institution broke a de facto contract with them. The ruling, though preliminary, is significant in that it suggests that policies outlined in a faculty handbook can amount to a kind of contract.

The lawsuit in question involves two tenured professors in the School of Medicine, Marie Monaco and Herbert Samuels, who saw their salaries involuntary reduced for not meeting external funding requirements in ways that they argue violated the faculty handbook. Specifically, they say that tenure, as defined by the handbook, ensures academic freedom and economic security and so is incompatible with salary reductions related to external funding metrics. A lower court found that the lawsuit had no merit, as “no writing was submitted to demonstrate that the respondents agreed that its faculty handbook and policy documents could or should have a contractually binding effect.” Moreover, Justice Alexander W. Hunter Jr. wrote in his 2015 opinion, “even if the handbook were contractually binding, the handbook itself is devoid of any provision which guarantees tenured faculty a particular level of support as a condition of their tenure.”

The appellate court, however, ruled earlier this month that, for the purposes of reinstating the lawsuit, Monaco and Samuels “sufficiently alleged that the policies contained in [NYU’s] faculty handbook, which ‘form part of the essential employment understandings between a member of the faculty and the university,’ have the force of contract” and “that they had a mutual understanding with [NYU] that tenured faculty members' salaries may not be involuntarily reduced.”

Monaco said via email, “Since many tenured faculty members at NYU are without individual contracts and rely solely on the faculty handbook to define their tenure rights of academic freedom and economic security, it is essential that NYU recognize their obligation to respect the contractual nature of the handbook. Had the lower court ruling stood, many tenured faculty at NYU would have become at-will employees. … At a time when tenure across the country is under attack, it is nice to have this win.”

An NYU spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said, “Oftentimes, New York courts reject the argument that an employment handbook is a binding implied contract.” The professors' case was supported by the American Association of University Professors.

December 20, 2016

The University of Minnesota football players' short-lived boycott has been parodied in a short sketch spoofing the film Dead Poets Society. In the video, which was created by University of Minnesota undergraduates, male students climb atop their desks as if they are about to take an inspiring stand on behalf of an important issue, only to proclaim they "don't believe rape victims."

The football players said last week they were protesting the suspension of 10 players on the team and threatened to boycott the Holiday Bowl game. The university did not announce a reason for the suspensions, but they are believed to be related to a sex assault investigation in which police declined to bring charges. After the players announced the end of their boycott this weekend, the university's president said the media misinterpreted the team's intent and that reporters "translated" the players' support for their teammates "into support of sexual violence."

The boycott initially attracted sympathy from many alumni, concerned about issues of due process, but support for the university's stance grew as details emerged about what happened to a female student in incidents involving 10 athletes, in particular after a redacted version of the university's equal opportunity office's report on its investigation was published by KSTP News. Contrary to the team's comments, the 80-page report shows that the football players were interviewed, their assertions were considered and they were not all judged equally responsible for what happened. The report also details why the university found that four of the players engaged in sexual assault and that others engaged in forms harassment, such as videotaping the victim without her consent. The report states that some athletes tried to cover up what happened or violated other parts of the student code of conduct.

The Star Tribune reported Sunday that it was the report's details -- many of them read over the weekend for the first time by football players who organized the boycott and by the family members of football players -- that broke the will of players to continue the boycott.

December 20, 2016

A former junior professor at Stanford University says the institution retaliated against her for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a senior professor, which resulted in a finding that he had made an “unwanted sexual advance” but did not harass her, The Guardian reported. Michelle Karnes, who is now an associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, says Stephen Hinton, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Stanford, told her he had a “crush” on her and that he was “tormented” by his feelings, once kissed her on the lips, and continually tried to talk to her at the gym even after she said she wanted no further contact.

Karnes says she confided in a fellow professor who was also the wife of her dean but was told to try to appease Hinton based on his position within the university. The dean’s office approved soon Karnes’s tenure but did not renew the position of her husband, Shane Duarte, a lecturer in philosophy for fall of this year. Karnes says that she and her husband had been hired as a “dual-career” academic couple, and the move to not rehire him after years of service and positive reviews was retaliatory. Instead of targeting her, she believes, administrators went after her husband because he was off the tenure track.

Hinton denied the allegations, saying the two had a “platonic, reciprocal relationship.”

Lisa Lapin, a university spokesperson, said the university conducted a “thorough and objective review” of Karnes’s allegations, but declined further comment on what she called personnel matters.

December 20, 2016

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday announced an agreement with Princeton University under which the institution agreed to revise or explain in new ways some policies with regard to students with disabilities. The agreement resolved issues raised in a compliance review conducted by the department. Princeton agreed to:

  • Revise policies to "explicitly describe the types of accommodations students with disabilities may request, including modifications to university policies, rules and regulations; where students may submit each type of accommodation request."
  • Revise websites to help students find relevant policies.
  • Revise its leave policy and practices.
  • Provide annual training, "with a focus on mental health disability discrimination, to all faculty and staff responsible for evaluating and/or deciding requests from students for reasonable accommodations."

A statement from the university said, "DOJ did not make any findings of noncompliance, but asked Princeton to update its policy language to better explain university procedures and options available to students with disabilities, which Princeton has agreed to do."

December 20, 2016

Colleges and universities continue to record a growing backlog in deferred facilities maintenance, according to a new report released Monday.

The campus facilities maintenance, modernization and infrastructure backlog averaged $100.07 per gross square foot in 2015, said the 2016 “State of Facilities in Higher Education” report, which has been released annually for four years by facilities data and consulting firm Sightlines. That’s up from $97.56 in 2014 and $81.72 in 2007.

Public and private institutions posted significantly different backlogs. Backlogs were higher at public institutions, averaging more than $108 per gross square foot. They were lower at private institutions, averaging $88 per gross square foot. Private institutions tend to invest more in facilities maintenance and modernization.

Enrollment trends place different facilities pressures on institutions of different sizes, the report found. Many small institutions that recently borrowed money to renovate or build in a bid to attract more students are now facing enrollment declines. They have seen enrollment drop by 3 percent since 2012 even though they’ve increased facilities development by 4 percent. Comprehensive institutions are opening new space just as they’re hit by enrollment stagnation -- they increased their space by almost 14 percent cumulatively since 2012 but only posted a 1 percent enrollment increase over the same time period.

Meanwhile, research universities face another set of circumstances, with enrollment spiking 13 percent since 2007 compared to a slower expansion of space of between 8 percent and 9 percent.

Many campuses postponed capital investment in aging existing facilities as they put up new buildings, the report said. Since 2007, capital invested in existing space has averaged $5 per gross square foot. Public institutions spent less -- $4.50 per gross square foot on average, versus $5.20 for private institutions.

More nonacademic space has been built than academic space in the last 100 years. In 1915, 70 percent of available space was built for academic purposes, compared to roughly 50 percent in 2015.

The report included data from 377 institutions in the United States and Canada collectively enrolling three million students. They had a collective 1.4 billion square feet of campus space.

December 20, 2016

Columbia University is challenging a recent vote by its graduate student employees to unionize, The New York Times reported. The complaint to the National Labor Relations Board says that "known union agents" were standing closer to polling places than allowed, and that voters should have been required to present identification. Graduate student leaders say the vote was valid and Columbia is trying to drag out the dispute so that a Trump administration NLRB, with new members, might remove the right of graduate students at private universities to unionize.

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