Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016 - 3:00am

A group of national accreditors is seeking to weigh in on the dispute between the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools over whether that controversial accrediting organization has to hand over records to the consumer bureau.

Five national accrediting agencies and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which advocates for accreditation on behalf of colleges and universities, last week asked the federal judge in the case for permission to file a friend of the court brief.

The brief argues that the CFPB does not have the power to compel records from ACICS, which accredited campuses of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges, and that any CFPB inquiry into an accreditor threatens the integrity of the accreditation process.

“CFPB’s efforts to investigate ACICS will not only impact that body, but will greatly impact all accrediting bodies in the field,” the accreditors and CHEA write. “CFPB’s actions exceeded its own jurisdiction, and intrude upon the jurisdiction of the Department of Education.”

The CFPB in August issued a formal demand to ACICS as part of an inquiry by the consumer bureau that relates to “unlawful acts and practices in connection with accrediting for-profit colleges.” ACICS has said the CFPB lacks jurisdiction to make such a demand, and the case is now pending before a federal judge.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, John Christian, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University, explores his research into helping astronauts who could face a loss of communication systems while in deep space. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 3:00am

The U.S. Department of Defense on Friday removed the University of Phoenix from probationary status, allowing the for-profit chain to again be eligible to participate in a tuition assistance program for active-duty members of the U.S. military.

The sanction, which the Pentagon handed down last October, was related to allegations of improper recruiting of service members. The Pentagon also cited investigations of the university by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and California's attorney general. As a result, Phoenix, which said at the time that it had fixed military-recruiting compliance issues, was barred from recruiting on military bases or enrolling students who received military tuition assistance.

"The department determined that the removal of probationary status was warranted based on the department's internal review, the university's response to the department's concerns as set forth in multiple potential noncompliance notifications including the department's letter dated Oct. 7, 2015, the active engagement and cooperation by representatives of the University of Phoenix, and other relevant materials," said a Defense Department official in a written statement.

Several Senate Republicans, including Arizona Senator John McCain, had complained about the sanction. McCain called the news last week a "victory for due process and basic fairness."

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 3:00am

Matthew Whitaker has agreed to resign his tenured position as a faculty member at Arizona State University under an agreement in which he will be paid $200,000 over the next 16 months, plus $25,000 in legal fees, The Arizona Republic reported. In July, after a plagiarism investigation, the university demoted Whitaker from full professor to associate professor. While Whitaker had denied wrongdoing before that time, in July he released a statement admitting to using "unattributed and poorly paraphrased material" in a book and said, "I accept responsibility for these errors." Whitaker was also the subject of a controversial plagiarism investigation in 2011, which found some instances in which he was "careless." Some professors criticized that investigation as inadequate.

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 3:00am

Anna Stubblefield, the former chair and professor of philosophy at Rutgers University at Newark, was sentenced to 12 years in prison Friday for aggravated sexual assault against an intellectually disabled man, NJ.com reported. She was convicted on charges involving a man with whom she’d worked on a controversial communication method. Stubblefield said she and the man were in love and that the sex was consensual. But the man’s relatives and prosecutors said the man lacks the intellectual capacity to give consent. The judge said that, based on her conviction, Stubblefield has lost her Rutgers position and is disqualified from future public employment.

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of Maryland is distancing itself from a press release about a study claiming to have shown that a particular brand of chocolate milk can help cure concussions, the Associated Press reported. The release came under fire recently after experts pointed out that it included little evidence to support its claims and did not acknowledge possible conflicts of interest with the chocolate milk company that helped pay for the research.

"We value our reputation and we value the advice we give to the public, and I believe this is not characteristic of what a leading, respected university should do," Pat O'Shea, Maryland’s vice president of research, told AP. The college is reviewing the study, he said, not to verify its results but to determine why it was published without proper vetting.

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 3:00am

Turkey briefly detained 27 academics on Friday who had signed a petition condemning the military campaign against Kurdish militants in the country’s southeast, The New York Times reported. Turkish authorities accused the scholars of spreading "terrorism propaganda" and of insulting the state. The arrested academics, who were reportedly released by Friday evening, were among more than 1,000 Turkish and foreign scholars who signed a petition demanding the government end what they called the "deliberate massacre" of Kurds.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the signatories of "treason" and of trying to undermine Turkey's national security. “Unfortunately, these so-called academics claim that the state is carrying out a massacre,” Erdogan said in a speech. “Hey, you so-called intellectuals: you are dark people. You are not intellectuals.”

The arrests of the 27 academics have heightened concerns about freedom of expression under Erdogan's presidency. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, issued a statement expressing concern about the “chilling effect” of the government’s actions on “legitimate political discourse.”

“Expressions of concern about violence do not equal support for terrorism," the ambassador's statement said. "Criticism of government does not equal treason.”

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 4:17am

Roxbury Community College has called off plans to privatize its information technology services department after Massachusetts auditors criticized the college for awarding a $3.4 million contract to do so without seeking bids, The Boston Globe reported. The college originally said that skipping a process to review other proposals was needed because this was an interim contract, but the deal lasted through 2019. The college had eliminated the jobs of IT employees when it signed the contract, and has indicated it will hire new employees now. The employees who lost their jobs were represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and AFSCME officials say they have been told by the college that new employees won't be eligible for the union.

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 3:00am

North Carolina's State Board of Community Colleges voted 11-7 Friday not to study the feasibility of offering bachelor's degrees in nursing, The News & Observer reported. Proponents of the idea noted that North Carolina lacks enough bachelor's degree holders in nursing, and that its community colleges offer well-respected associate programs. But board members said they did not want to start a turf war with the University of North Carolina system or risk a shift in mission away from an emphasis on two-year degrees.

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 3:00am

Colleges in Flint, Mich., are assuring students and employees that they are doing their own testing of water safety and taking extra steps to ensure water on campus is safe to use amid many concerns about unsafe drinking water in the area. The University of Michigan at Flint started using water filters a year ago and conducts tests to make sure they are working. Kettering University has tested its water and determined that it is safe, and is noting that the problems in Flint are serious in some parts of the city but not others. Mott Community College started testing its water a year ago as part of an effort to provide safe water on campus.

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