Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 3, 2017

President Trump on Thursday repeated a campaign pledge by promising to "destroy" the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 federal provision that bans political activity by nonprofit organizations, including colleges and churches.

Under the amendment, nonprofit colleges cannot directly or indirectly endorse specific candidates or otherwise engage in politicking without risking their nonprofit tax status. Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University's president and an early Trump supporter, has called for the amendment's repeal, arguing that it has been used by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to target conservative and religious groups. “In recent years it’s been used as a club,” Falwell told Inside Higher Ed in July. “It would be best for all nonprofit organizations if it were repealed.”

The amendment has rarely if ever been enforced in higher education. Yet David Herzig, a professor at Valparaiso University's law school who specializes in tax law, said it poses a theoretical concern for colleges in a heated political environment. "The penalty is you lose your exemption," he said. "It's a stiff penalty."

Herzig said a university-hosted rally, for example, where faculty members and lawmakers endorsed a political position, could be viewed as a violation of the amendment. Trump could call on the IRS to investigate such an event, Herzig said. That possibility seems less far-fetched this week, as the president on Twitter threatened to yank federal funding for the University of California, Berkeley, after violent protests led to the university canceling an appearance by a Breitbart writer and provocateur. "I do see the concern for higher ed," said Herzig.

Ending the Johnson Amendment, however, probably would not lead to much political advocacy by public colleges, said Jim Newberry, a lawyer who heads the higher education practice at Steptoe & Johnson. That's because public institution leaders tend to avoid confrontations with lawmakers who have a say in their funding. "You live by that sword, you die by that sword," he said.

Yet some religiously affiliated colleges might want to get more politically involved if the amendment was dropped, Newberry said. One reason, according to an article The Atlantic published this week, is that some religious colleges increasingly see a marketing value in appealing to political conservatives. Even so, Newberry doubted many colleges would operate all that differently if the ban on politicking were eliminated. "I just don't think it's really in the heart and soul of what they do," he said.

February 3, 2017

Republicans in Congress began the process Thursday to block the implementation of teacher-prep rules that would impose new accountability on education colleges.

The Obama administration finalized those rules in October after a years-long process that included negotiated rule making and input from teachers' unions, college deans and other education groups.

But Representative Brett Guthrie, a Kentucky Republican, introduced a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to stop the new rules from going into effect. The Congressional Review Act is a little-used legislative tool that allows lawmakers to eliminate a number of so-called midnight regulations issued in the final months of a presidency.

“Unfortunately, as it did so often, the Obama administration acted unilaterally, overreached and took a one-size-fits-all approach to how teachers are prepared for the classroom,” said Guthrie, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, in a statement. “As a result, the rules finalized by the Department of Education ignore the principles guiding recent bipartisan education reforms and would actually make it more difficult for state and local leaders to help ensure teachers are ready to succeed.”

Education groups who have backed more accountability and transparency for the programs that train public-school teachers have welcomed the efforts by the Obama administration to craft the rules. Benjamin Riley, executive director of Deans for Impact, said states across the country are already taking steps to ensure colleges are no longer sending unprepared teachers into classrooms.

"Apparently some elected officials, in their zeal for deregulation, are willing to join hands with those in higher education who will resist any and all attempts to use policy to improve outcomes," he said.

February 3, 2017

The University of Wisconsin at Madison is proposing, pending state funding approval, that transfer students from the state's community college system who meet various academic criteria receive one year of free tuition if they are from the first generation in their families to go to college. Those who are Pell Grant eligible would receive two years of free tuition.

February 3, 2017

Former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. will be the next leader of the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for minority and low-income students.

Ed Trust named King its president and CEO weeks after he left the Department of Education, which he led since March 2016. Previously, King served as acting deputy secretary of education and New York commissioner of education.

He will succeed Ed Trust CEO Kati Haycock, who has led the organization since she founded it in the early 1990s.

“Over its 25-year history, the Education Trust has been a leader in the work to bring attention and action to closing longstanding opportunity and achievement gaps that separate too many low-income students and students of color from their peers, pre-kindergarten through college,” said Education Trust board Chairman David V. Britt. “This history provides a strong foundation on which to build new partnerships, new work and new learning -- indeed, a new movement -- and we think John is exactly the right leader for this next stage of the organization’s work.”

In state-level offices, the organization has worked with civil rights groups on equity issues in K-12 schools. Ed Trust has also created data tools on the higher education level and added support for colleges serving large concentrations of low-income and minority students.

The organization has spoken out in opposition to Betsy DeVos’s nomination as education secretary. And its Midwest arm has criticized the Michigan charter school law that DeVos donated millions to back politically.

King in an interview with Politico Thursday took the unusual step for a former secretary of expressing serious concerns about President Trump’s nominee. DeVos’s background in education has been as a school choice activist and donor to political campaigns to expand charter schools and vouchers.

King, who led a charter school chain in New York himself, questioned whether DeVos will be committed to protecting civil rights as education secretary.

“People who care about public education, who care about equity, who care about civil rights should speak out loudly,” he told Politico. “When there seems to be a lack of clear commitment to protecting student civil rights, we’re going to speak up loudly.”

He said in comments to Ed Trust staff that he lost both parents at a young age but was supported and challenged by his teachers in public school. In leading the organization, he said he wants to help provide that same support to students from similar backgrounds.

“Amazing teachers at PS 276 in Canarsie and Mark Twain Junior High School in Coney Island gave me a sense of hope and possibility. If I had not had those teachers, I wouldn’t be alive today. They literally saved my life,” King said. “At the Education Trust, I want to help more kids like me -- kids for whom schools make all the difference -- get the education they need and deserve.”

February 3, 2017

Parchment, which is a large digital transcript company in K-12 and higher education, has gotten into the credential-management platform business. The company announced this week that college students could use Parchment to create a "personal vault for their digital credentials, from which they can share on their social networks and with potential employers online."

The company said that it would host credentialing for certificates as well as for degrees, and that colleges could track the certificates that are claimed and shared on social media.

February 3, 2017

Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said Thursday that the National Labor Relations Board's general counsel should "abandon his partisan agenda or step down immediately." The statement was made in response to the general counsel, Richard Griffin, issuing a memorandum on Tuesday that said scholarship football players at private Football Bowl Subdivision institutions are employees.

"This partisan memorandum puts the interests of union leaders over America’s students, and it has the potential to create significant confusion at college campuses across the nation," Foxx said in a statement issued jointly with Representative Tim Walberg, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions. "It’s an affront to hardworking Americans for Griffin to double down on his extreme, Big Labor agenda, especially at a time when a new president is entitled to move the NLRB in a new direction. Griffin should respect the will of the American people and rescind this memorandum immediately. If he is unwilling to set aside his extreme and partisan agenda, then he should step aside as general counsel."

February 3, 2017

Colby College is today announcing a gift worth more than $100 million -- much of the gift in the form of art, but also funds to create a research center on American art. The gift adds to a gift of $100 million in art in 2007 from the same donors, Peter and Paula Lunder. Among the works the Lunders have given are pieces by Mary Cassatt, Jasper Johns, Nina Katchadourian, Jacob Lawrence, Maya Lin, Joan Mitchell, Georgia O'Keeffe, Claes Oldenburg and Vincent Van Gogh. At right is O'Keeffe's "Lake George in the Woods," part of the collection now at Colby. Colby officials say the collection now created is highly unusual for a liberal arts college's museum.

February 3, 2017

Elsevier on Thursday said it has acquired Plum Analytics, a company that produces alternative metrics for tracking the impact of research, from the information services company EBSCO. The acquisition is the latest move in the metrics space by Elsevier, which last year launched CiteScore, an alternative to the widely used Journal Impact Factor. At the time, Elsevier said it was looking to expand its “basket of metrics.” The company said in a press release that it intends to feature Plum Analytics metrics across its products.

February 3, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Aris Karagiorgakis, associate professor of psychology at Black Hills State University, examines the adult coloring book fad. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 2, 2017

Protests against President Trump's ban on those from seven Muslim-majority nations entering the United States have spread from airports to college campuses. At Ohio University Wednesday, about 70 protesters were arrested when they refused to leave a sit-in in a university building, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The students were not only protesting Trump's policies but said that the university was not doing enough to fight them.

Among the many campus-based protests in recent days were events at American, Chapman and Rutgers Universities.

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