Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 4:20am

The union representing professors at the California State University System have voted to authorize a strike if faculty and administrative leaders cannot reach agreement on a pay raise. The tactic is intended to increase pressure on Cal State administrators to take seriously the union's demands for a 5 percent across-the-board raise and a further boost for those on the lower end of the pay scale; the system is offering 2 percent, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Cal State union has voted to authorize strikes four times since 2007, but has actually gone to the picket lines only once, in 2011, according to the Times.

Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Paul Elvers, research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, explores how social origins don't always predict musical taste. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 3:00am

Harris-Stowe State University must pay a former full-time education instructor $4.85 million in damages related to her racial bias claims, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. A St. Louis circuit court ruled that the historically black university discriminated against Beverly Wilkins, who is white, when it fired her in 2010.

Wilkins said one administrator in particular, Latisha Smith, a former dean and department head, failed to follow a reduction in force policy in pegging her for termination over several other black faculty members. The lawsuit alleges that Smith purged the department of all white faculty members, except one protected by tenure, and that she covered up her bias by deleting incriminating emails. Smith blamed budget cuts for Wilkins’s termination, but continued to hire additional faculty members -- including two to cover Wilkins’s classes, who together were paid more than her salary -- Michael Meyers, her lawyer, told the Dispatch.

Ronald Norwood, chairman of the Harris-Stowe State University Board of Regents, called the ruling “regrettable” in a statement, and said the university was dedicated to moving forward after key leadership changes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 4:11am

Yale University will spend $50 million over five years to enhance the diversity of its faculty, its leaders announced Tuesday. About half of the money will be used to match individual departments' funds to help hire "targets of opportunity who would enrich diversity or contribute on another dimension of strategic importance to the university," and to hire up to 10 visiting professors a year. Funds will also support improved faculty development offerings and expand some fellowship and other programs aimed at building the pool of prospective faculty members.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 4:18am

A student's alleged social media threat to shoot up California State University's Fresno campus on Monday was blowing off steam and he did not intend to carry out the plan -- but authorities plan to prosecute him nonetheless, The Fresno Bee reported. The student was barred from campus and kicked off the Fresno State football team after the incident, according to the university's main Twitter account. Police arrested Christian Pryor after he allegedly vowed on Yik Yak that he would “release his frustrations” over “dirty looks” and getting “rejected” by using a weapon at a specified time.

University officials said they did not believe the threat was real, but that they would pursue criminal charges nonetheless. “There’s no joke that’s funny about killing people,” David Huerta, the university's police chief, said at a news conference. “There’s no mistake about it when you write it down. It was an intentional and designed act. It caused terror on this campus.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 3:00am

A coalition of 12 organizations, including New America, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Law and Social Policy, on Wednesday released a set of shared principles for policy makers to consider in the run-up to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the law that governs federal aid programs. While the groups have different takes on many issues in higher education, they said the current formulation of the law does not meet the needs of students for high-quality, affordable and relevant educational opportunities.

The groups described seven principles: outcomes are what matter, federal financial aid policies need to be more flexible, higher education needs to do more to connect learning and work, accreditation processes need to be more transparent and rigorous, quality assurance processes should focus more on programs and credentials, policy should encourage innovation and experimentation, and that the Higher Education Act should be better coordinated with other federally funded education and training programs.

"Reauthorization offers the chance to renew our country’s commitment to higher education for all who seek it," they wrote, "while also helping institutions adapt to the fast-paced, technology-driven global economy that their students will face at graduation."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 3:00am

Companies hired by the U.S. Department of Education to collect federal student loan payments made “deceptive” statements to borrowers, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The consumer bureau said in a report published Tuesday that its routine review of loan servicing companies uncovered “misrepresentations” by federal student loan servicers about late fees. The servicers informed borrowers that they might face late fees on their federal student loans even though the Education Department does not charge such fees, the report says. The CFPB did not name the companies where its regulators found problems. The bureau said it directed the loan servicers to stop making deceptive statements.

An Education Department spokeswoman, Denise Horn, said the issue was a matter of confusion. She said the department's original contracts with its loan servicers required the companies to have the capability to assess late fees but the department never instructed them to actually charge late fees.

“We have never allowed or directed our servicers to charge late fees,” Horn said in an email. “Some servicers have included language on their statements indicating late fees may be assessed. The department was recently made aware of this issue and will be directing all servicers to cease making these representations.”

CFPB regulators also said they found other problems in the student loan servicing industry, including at companies that collect payments on behalf of private lenders. For example, in some cases, the CFPB said, loan servicers applied borrowers’ payments to various loans in ways that maximized late fees or unfairly processed automatic payments.

Bureau officials have said they’re actively exploring new regulations on student loan servicers but have yet to put forward any proposals.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 3:00am

The Lumina Foundation this week released the first four of 13 papers it plans to roll out in coming months on performance-based funding in higher education. At least 35 states are either developing or using funding formulas that link support for public colleges to student completion rates, degree production numbers or other metrics. The Lumina papers look at how those policies are working, with particular interest in their impact on the completion rates of underserved student populations.

"Numerous independent research studies have found evidence that funding models with financial incentives for colleges and universities to help students complete their programs of study result in better pathways and supports for students," the foundation said in a written statement. "The need for finance systems oriented around improving student outcomes is urgent, especially for ensuring more equitable outcomes for students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds."

The first four papers give an overview of outcomes-based funding. Future papers will focus on state policy metrics, the relationship of student incentives to performance funding and institutional responses to the formulas.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 3:00am

Middle East studies scholars are rallying to the cause of a Turkish professor who is being prosecuted for disseminating “terrorist propaganda” and praising “crime and criminals” based on an exam question he wrote asking students to compare two texts written by Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.

The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom has written a letter supporting the professor, Baris Unlu, a political scientist at Ankara University. The association wrote that the indictment against Unlu “conflates the use of texts for critical examination in an academic curriculum with engaging in terrorist propaganda. Further, if presenting Ocalan as a political figure is treated as a basis for criminal investigation, the government runs the risk of effectively criminalizing all academics, students, journalists and political organizers working on Kurdish issues.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Lynn Perry, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami, explores if the relationship of the sound of words and their meanings goes farther than we think. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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