Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 2, 2017

A trade association representing independent U.S. oil and natural gas producers fired another shot Monday in a running campaign to push back against the effort to convince colleges and universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies.

Divestment brings significant portfolio costs and would force a 15.2 percent average reduction in endowment spending, according to the report, from the Independent Petroleum Association of America. The report is part of a program the IPAA started in 2015 to use data to argue that fossil fuel divestment is ineffective.

It says private universities could raise annual tuition by $1,043 to $3,265 to compensate for lost revenue from endowments, depending on their reliance on endowment spending. Public universities, which generally have smaller endowments and less reliance on endowment spending, could raise tuition by $123, to $385.

Supporters of divestment have in the past made the case that fossil fuel companies are overvalued and that clean energy can be more profitable than fossil fuels over the long run. A divestment task force at Barnard College recently concluded it could not predict the financial impact of divesting from fossil fuels.

The campaign coordinator at the climate group 350.org was unimpressed with the report when IPAA shared it on Twitter.

But the senior vice president for operations and public affairs at IPAA, Jeff Eshelman, said divestment would make college degrees more expensive.

“When it comes to the impacts of divestment, whether in the form of increased tuition or cuts to instruction time and faculty, students only stand to lose,” he said in a statement.

May 2, 2017

Cetys University is making a bid to become the first Mexican university in the NCAA, The New York Times reported. The private university based mainly in Mexicali and Tijuana has four men’s varsity teams – including a football team -- three women’s varsity teams and an annual athletic budget of $1.25 million. The California Collegiate Athletic Association is supporting Cetys’s bid, but the Times cites several obstacles, including the need for student athletes on opposing teams to have the required passports or visas to travel to Mexico for away games, and the political and practical issues at play in crossing the border, a process that is subject to delays.

The NCAA accepted its first international member institution, Canada's Simon Fraser University, in 2012. Last week it made permanent a pilot program that allows divisions to invite Canadian or Mexican universities to join.

May 2, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Christina Starmans, postdoctoral associate in the department of psychology at Yale University, explores why adults and children think different groups of people react differently when looking at the same situation. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 1, 2017

Middlebury College announced that it has punished more than 30 students who were involved in disrupting a March 2 talk on campus by Charles Murray. A statement from the college said that these students "have accepted disciplinary sanctions," although the statement said the college would not provide details on those sanctions. The college's statement said that it has identified more than 70 students who "may be subject to disciplinary procedures under student handbook policies." A college spokesman said that those punished so far were believed only to have disrupted the Murray talk by chanting and shouting. This group does not include any who may have been involved with physical attacks after the event on a professor and a car carrying the professor and Murray.

The college's statement also said, "At this point there is no unambiguous evidence that any member of the Middlebury College faculty violated faculty policies in regard to their actions on March 2."

May 1, 2017

Both The New York Times and Politico reported that a budget deal between Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and the Trump administration -- to keep the government running through September -- provides more money for the National Institutes of Health. Because many Republicans in Congress oppose any deal, the measure requires Democratic votes to pass, and Democrats won such victories as the NIH funds and the exclusion of money for a wall on the border with Mexico. Politico reported that the deal includes an extra $2 billion for the NIH, which is particularly significant since the Trump administration is pushing for a major cut in spending on the agency.

Senate appropriators also restored year-round Pell Grant eligibility as part of the omnibus bill for the current 2017 fiscal year. Congress, with the Obama administration's backing, in 2012 eliminated year-round eligibility, citing the program's costs. As a result, many students burn through their Pell Grants after two semesters and are unable to use them for summer courses.

The budget deal also includes a $1.31 billion cut to the Pell program's surplus, according to a written statement from congressional Democrats, with $6.2 billion of the remaining surplus carried over for next year. Congress increased the maximum grant award amount to $5,920, a bump of $105.

“Restoring year-round Pell Grants is a bipartisan, common-sense approach to making college more affordable for hardworking students in Missouri and across the nation,” Senator Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who leads the Senate's appropriations subcommittee, said in a written statement. “By allowing full- and part-time students to receive an additional Pell Grant during the year, often for a summer session, we’re helping them stay on track for graduation, enter or re-enter the work force sooner, and graduate with less debt.”

The National Endowments for the Humanities and for the Arts would also see slight increases for the 2017 fiscal year, in sharp contrast to the eliminations that the Trump administration has proposed for 2018.

May 1, 2017

A former Transylvania University student was subdued by the president of the university and the chief of the public safety department Friday after he attacked a female student with a machete and appeared ready to use the weapon on other students, The Kentucky Herald-Leader reported.

The attacker, 19-year-old Mitchell Adkins, entered an on-campus cafe with a bag full of weapons and begin singling out female students and asking them which political party they identified with, one witness told LEX 18.

When the first woman said she was a Republican, Adkins passed over her. The next woman, however, had a different answer, and Adkins stabbed her with his machete.

Gregg Muravchick, director of public safety at Transylvania, happened to be next door to the cafe when he received an alert that someone had pressed a panic alarm. When he approached the building, he saw the female student suffering from a stab wound.

Muravchick drew his handgun and told the attacker to drop his weapons.

President Seamus Carey, who also happened to be in the area when he heard students were in trouble, helped with the handcuffs while Muravchick restrained the attacker.

Other university and city police officers arrived to help, as well as an ambulance for the student victim, who had been aided by an employee in the accounting department.

The victim was admitted to a hospital but is not suffering from life-threatening injuries.

Adkins left the university in 2015. In November of that year, he wrote an article for BuzzFeed about harassment and discrimination he faced on campus for his conservative political beliefs.

He is charged with first-degree and fourth-degree assault, plus multiple counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. Adkins is being held in the Fayette County Detention Center and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

May 1, 2017

A professor at Oakland University in Michigan has been arrested on charges of operating a drug house out of his home and providing drugs to students, among other offenses, Local 4 News reported.

Joseph Schiele, a business professor at Oakland, has been charged with seven counts, including a felony related to firearms, possession with intent to deliver and operating a drug house.

The university police chief said he had received two anonymous tips during a six-month period, both relating to parties at the professor’s home in Oakland Township.

“There were references to drugs, illegal drugs, and underage drinking made during the anonymous tips,” Mark Gordon, Oakland University police chief, said. “There was enough consistency between the two of them, from two different people, that we said there’s probably something to this.”

Because the events occurred off campus, Gordon handed the case over to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the allegations and found ketamine in Schiele’s home.

A 22-year-old female student visited Schiele’s house more than 30 different times to drink and do drugs, according to court transcripts. She specifically mentioned using cocaine and ketamine at his house. A 19-year-old male students said he had been to the professor’s house fewer than 10 times and had been provided alcohol, marijuana and ketamine.

The professor has been at Oakland since 2004 and was tenured in 2010. He declined a request for comment from Local 4 News.

The university has placed Schiele on paid administrative leave.

May 1, 2017

Yik Yak, the once-popular anonymous messaging app, will shut down in the coming weeks, its developers announced Friday. The app was once at the center of several campus controversies, but a series of decisions to limit completely anonymous posting drove many users away. The company behind Yik Yak, once valued at between $300-400 million, in February announced a new group messaging app. Last month, many of its software engineers were hired by the payment solutions provider Square.

May 1, 2017

Fordham University’s dean of students took action Friday against more than a dozen students who were involved in a scuffle outside the president’s office by suspending their access to campus for anything other than academic studies.

The decision led campus officials, including many faculty members, to pen an open letter to the president calling for the actions to be reversed.

The student protesters “forced their way” into the foyer of the president’s office Thursday afternoon, according to a university statement provided to Inside Higher Ed, requiring intervention from public safety officials. After multiple requests to leave the entrance to the office, the protesters relocated and resumed their demonstration outside.

The students were protesting "in support of faculty rights," according to the open letter.

No protesters were injured, according to the statement, but the public safety officials each sustained a cut to one of their arms.

Christopher Rodgers, the dean of students, decided on Friday to suspend at least 14 students’ access to campus until Sunday evening. Students living on campus were evicted from their dorm rooms, the open letter says, and those living off campus were prohibited from going on campus for anything besides class and other mandatory academic activities.

“The university condemns the actions of those protesters who used physical force to make their point, and in the process injured two members of the Fordham community,” the statement said. “These measures are not frequently used, but are routine for the level of disciplinary charges the students will likely face, and are part of the university’s long-established policy.”

The signees of the open letter to the president, Reverend Joseph McShane, disagree -- they called Rodgers's actions "unprecedented."

The letter says Rodgers took this action based on a line in the student handbook that says a student may be suspended if the dean of students “determines that the well-being including, but not limited to, the health and safety of the community or of the accused student is endangered by that student’s presence on campus.”

The authors of the open letter felt Rodgers’s actions reflected a misinterpretation of that line in the handbook.

“Whatever [the students'] behavior was in the context of the demonstration -- and again, that has yet to be adjudicated -- nothing in their actions indicates that they could pose a threat to anyone outside of such a context,” the letter said. “There is zero chance that they are going to walk around campus assaulting students and security guards. It is hard to see Dean Rodgers's decisions as anything other than vindictive.”

Those who signed the letter are urging Father McShane to intervene and overturn the dean of students’ actions immediately.

The university’s statement says that all students who were affected by this action had other places to stay over the weekend. “The university stresses that these are interim measures only: whether the students in question face sanctions will be determined through normal conduct proceedings in the coming week.”

May 1, 2017

Hundreds of students at St. Olaf College held a sit-in Saturday afternoon and through the night in the student center to protest recent racial incidents on the campus. The immediate spur for the incident was a note left on the car of a black woman, making racist threats and saying it would be a good thing if she left the campus. Students said the incident was but the latest in a series targeting minority students with anonymous, racist notes.

The college issued a statement that condemned the recent incident and said the college was investigating it, as it has the other incidents this year.

"These acts are despicable," the college statement says. "They violate every value we hold as a community, and they have absolutely no place at St. Olaf.

When the first report arose last October, the college notified the campus of the incident and launched an immediate investigation. "We are sparing no effort and are using every tool at our disposal to catch the perpetrators of these hate-filled acts," the statement said. "St. Olaf has notified Northfield Police, and we are working with law enforcement. Each time a racist act has been perpetrated, the college has continued notifying the campus."


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